Eight Questions for Tanya Olson

Poet Tanya Olson reads at the Pratt Wednesday, September 25, with Jona Colson and Edgar Kunz.

Which writers inspire you?
When my first book came out, I did not want to have it blurbed—I find blurbs totally unhelpful. They don’t help me find new good books and let’s be honest; they are often a pack of lies. But YesYes Books asked me to think about who I thought of as my poetic family, which is a really helpful concept that I continue to cling to. So I think of my poetic family as Dorothea Lasky, CAConrad, and Susan Howe. Now, just like blood family, they don’t have any say in that and the feeling may not be mutual. But, also like blood family, they inspire me to write the poems I need in the way I need.

What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever received?
Eloise Klein Healy gave me a lot it—when I was frustrated, felt like I was writing good poems but wasn’t getting anywhere with them—publications, books, readings—she noted my problem was I kept knocking on the front door of poetry’s house and poetry was never going to let me in the front door. But, she reminded me, there are lots of ways in the house and once you are in the house, it matters a little less how you got in. I’ve found that to be true. I didn’t come to poetry through what is now the traditional course—young, MFA, literary journals—so trying those ways of getting the door opened was frustrating. But, I snuck in and people do tend to forget that you didn’t walk in the usual way.

When did you write your first poem, and what was it about?
I came to poetry later than a lot of folks—I took a creative writing class as an undergraduate and liked it but didn’t feel particularly good at the three weeks we devoted to poetry. I started writing seriously when I was late 30s? Early 40s? I went to an art event regularly in Raleigh called Stammer! and saw several artists regularly there—Langston Fuze, Lisa McCool, Dasan Ahanu—that made me want to do what they did. I remember reading at an open mic there and being super nervous but have no memory of what I read.

Do you have any rituals or practices that help you write?
No. I usually follow the same pattern; I read, listen, and watch a ton of things that are related in some way to what I’m thinking about. I take notes and write scraps in a notebook during this. Then I become ready to write; I write a lot during this time. Some poems come out whole, others are partial. I start to think about how the poems will go together while I polish the finished and finish the unfinished. Poems are magic, but like most magic, making them is just hard work.

Imagine you get to take a writing workshop with any famous writer, living or dead. Whom do you pick? 
Gertrude Stein and we are working on repetition. It’s one of my favorite toys to play with in a poem or a book and why not learn from the best.

Which poem by another poet do you most wish you had written yourself?
The list is long! One time at a reading we “swapped” poems and I got to read Ocean Vuong’s “Of Thee I Sing,” which is one of my favorites of his. I wish I could title like Aziza Barnes;  “i could ask, but i think they use tweezers” is a great poem whose title works so hard. Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas is the smartest book I’ve read in a long time and by the time you get to “38,” that poem just knocks you down.

How did you choose the title of your new book?
I like one-word titles and titles that prepare you for the book. I kept thinking what it cost to leave a place, idea, identity and what it cost to remain in those same things. So Stay;  I also like that it sounds like both a plea and a command.

Which of your poems do you most enjoy reading to an audience, and why?
There are a lot I love to experience an audience hearing;  out of the new book “Other People Call It America” and “54 Prince” are two of my favorites to read aloud.

Ten Questions for Jona Colson

Poet Jona Colson reads at the Pratt Wednesday, September 25, with Edgar Kunz and Tanya Olson.

Which writers inspire you?
There are so many. Marie Howe, Elizabeth Spires, Kaveh Akbar, Jericho Brown—I admire their craft and imagination. Many more.

What was the last book you loved?
There are two that really knocked me out. One was Less by Andrew Sean Greer and the other was Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous

What’s the best advice about writing you’ve ever received?
That you will always have that first draft. If you are tentative about changes, or about going in an entirely new direction, try it. You will always have the first draft to return to;  you can think of your first draft as a safety net. 

When did you write your first poem, and what was it about?
I probably wrote what was considered a poem in high school. I don’t remember what it was about. I had a few early poems that dealt with sexuality and identity. 

Do you have any rituals or practices that help you write?
I have a long list of phrases and starts and stops of poems. I often begin a poem by revisiting the document and developing longer phrases until it takes its own shape and content.

What’s one of your favorite lines of poetry or sentences from a poem?
Some of my favorite lines of poetry come from the poem “Lastness” in Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares. The narrator describes the birth of his son, and the first moment he held him:

I took him up in my hands and bent
over and smelled
the black, glistening fur
of his head, as empty space
must have bent
over the newborn planet
and smelled the grasslands and the ferns.

Imagine you get to take a writing workshop with any famous writer, living or dead. Whom do you pick?
Anne Sexton! I would be really curious to hear what she was like in person and in workshop. 

Which poem by another poet do you most wish you had written yourself?
Anne Sexton’s “The Truth the Dead Know.” The poem has such an emotional truth combined with craft. A perfect poem.

How did you choose the title of your book?
My first book, which was published last year, is called Said Through Glass. This title comes from a line in the book. The original title was Everybody Has a Heart, Except Some People, but I changed it based on the editorial advice from the press, and thoughts from friends. 

Which of your poems do you most enjoy reading to an audience, and why?
I enjoy reading my dialogue poems and the poems that have more of a narrative thread. I love reading the poem “Lesson,” which is a very short poem, and one of my favorites from the book. I sent this poem out to lots of journals, but it never got in;  however, it reads so well and always garners a response from the audience.

Get Ready to Party at the Central Grand Reopening

After three years, we are happy to announce the completion of the renovation of the Central Library. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a free Block Party and Open House!

If you are in the Baltimore area make sure to stop by the Central Library on Saturday, September 14 from noon to 4pm.

For a full list of events, please check out the schedule here.

You’re in store for a jam-packed day of fun. Here’s what you can look forward to….

Laura Lippman and Sujuta Massey

Author Talks
Don’t miss these exciting conversations featuring acclaimed authors with strong ties to Baltimore.

  • Laura Lippman in conversation with Sujuta Massey
  • Kondwani Fidel and Chris Wilson, moderated by D. Watkins

Giveaways and Prizes
Interested in Pratt swag? Make sure to stop by early to pick up one of our giveaways. You even have a chance at winning a prize when you take the virtual tour.

Speaking of a virtual tour…
Come and learn about the history and the future of the Pratt with our virtual tour. There will be ten stops around the Central Library. Download the app CampusAR and start exploring the magic of augmented reality!

A1 Chops

Live Music and Performances
You can’t have a party without music! Here’s a few of the performers lined up.

  • Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women Step Team
  • A1 Chops
  • Morgan State University Choir
  • Nico Sarbanes
123 Andrés

Free Family Fun
Kids activities will be held all day. Don’t miss out on…

  • 123 Andrés
  • Black Cherry Puppet Theater
  • National Aquarium
  • Face painting

Happy Pride Month from the Pratt!

In honor of Pride Month, there’s a new Free to Bmore Podcast spotlighting 50 years of Pride. It’s been half a century since the Stonewall Uprising kicked off Pride marches across the world. In the episode, LGBTQ + community members discuss how far the movement for equal rights has come, and how much further there is to go. Give it a listen here.

The Pratt staff had a great time over the weekend at Baltimore Pride 2019! You might have saw us walking in the Pride Parade on Saturday, June 15. In case you didn’t, here are a few pictures.

Check out what’s on our reading list this LGBTQ + Pride Month.

I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves
By Ryan O’Connell
It Gets Better
By Dan Savage

Read | Download | Listen
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret
By Misa Sugiura

Read | Listen
Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era
By Jason Baumann

Read the book
Outsiders: Why Difference is the Future of Civil Rights
By Zachary Kramer
Read | Listen
Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States
By Samantha Allen

Read the book
Redefining Realness
By Janet Mock

Read | Download | Listen
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
By Becky Albertalli

Read | Download | Listen
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story
By Jacob Tobia

Read the book
Sister Outsider
By Audre Lorde

Read | Listen
Something True
By Karelia Stetz-Waters

Read the book
Sugar Run
By Mesha Maren

Read | Listen
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali
By Sabina Khan

Read | Listen
Tomorrow Will Be Different
By Sarah McBride

Read | Download

Trans Like Me
By CN Lester

Read | Download | Listen
What if it’s Us
By Becky Alberalli

Read | Download | Listen

Thank You for Being You!

The Enoch Pratt Free Library is proud to be celebrating one year being fine-free. We’re celebrating with Customer Appreciation Day on Monday, June 3!

Stop by your neighborhood Pratt Library branch anytime throughout the day to join in on the fun. Enjoy snacks in the morning and the evening, and giveaways while supplies last. Have you misplaced your Pratt Library card? Not too worry, replacement fees for lost cards will be waived during the entire day. All you would need to do is visit the circulation desk for details and get your replacement card.

The cards allows you to access to so much that the Pratt has to offer with books, music (Did you know we have vinyl records? 😍) and more in our catalog. There’s plenty of eBooks and eAudiobooks available to download in Overdrive, RBdigital, and Hoopla.

Thanks again for being you, an awesome part of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.