THE SMOKING POET ON VITAMIN K

by Zinta Aistars

I call it my Vitamin K. On a regular basis, for good health of mind and spirit, I need a dose. It's been more than two years since I sat in an office in Mandelle Hall, writing stories for LuxEsto and pitching news about Kalamazoo College to the media. After nearly eleven years at Kalamazoo College, it was time to move on to new challenges, but oh, those good memories lingered, and I was not ready to let go entirely. I still need that occasional shot of Vitamin K in my lifeblood at a healthy level.

One of my creative passions is a literary e-zine called The Smoking Poet. The e-zine (an electronic version of a magazine) was born on a business trip to Austin, Texas in early 2006, on a journey to meet and interview Dominic Smith, an alumnus of Kalamazoo College who had at that time just published his first novel, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre. LuxEsto printed the story of Dominic, but the story of The Smoking Poet, inspired by the creative atmosphere Dominic brought to my Austin visit, well, that's stayed with me ever since.

Vitamin K continues to nurture and nourish good things in my life. Now beginning its fifth year of publication, I am proud of The Smoking Poet and all the literary voices we have spotlighted over the years: Dorianne Laux, Dominic Smith, Ingrid Hill, Sue Miller, Lynn Stegner, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Tish Cohen, Pamela Erens, and many, many more.

The Winter 2009-2010 Issue, however, is extra "K" special. Every issue (we are a quarterly) features a poet or novelist extraordinaire. This issue that extraordinary voice belongs to Kalamazoo College writer-in-residence, Diane Seuss. TSP interviews Di, includes a full page of her lush poetry - it's Diane Seuss through and through. And then - we devote a page to her Kalamazoo College creative writing students. Di's creative offspring include: Maggie Baillie, Paloma Clohossey, Rachel Dallman, Jared Devitt, Claire Eder, Natalia Holtzman, Maghan Jackson, Marianna Johnson, Jeanette Lee, Takira Lytle, Jessica Maas, Ada McCartney, Jordan Rickard, Joseph Schafer, Jenneva Scholz, Natasha Sharam, Alice Thomsen. What better evidence of a terrific teacher than to gather around her the poetic voices of her students?

How does she cultivate those voices? "I designed a developmental approach to teaching creative writing in my teaching practice. Introduction to Creative Writing is multi-genred. The focus is less upon the subtle craft points of a given genre and more upon loosening up, having fun with language, experiencing the imagination as it rises to the occasion when faced with the limitations of time or form or subject, remembering our intuitive connection to language, the connection that is often severed by the time people reach young adulthood. My teaching begins with a funky combo of freedom and profoundly limiting assignments, moves into apprenticeship and the opportunity to broaden one's repertoire and word palette, and ends with individuation."

From poetry to food activism and sustainable farming: our nonfiction page called "A Good Cause" is an essay by Kalamazoo College alumnae, Nicolette Hahn Niman, who was
"For good health of mind and spirit, I need a dose."
on campus during Homecoming to promote her book, Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. Nicolette writes about "Eating Right and Righteously." Her essay is followed by my review of her book. It's not just a love story between a vegetarian and a cattle rancher. It's about how to vote with your fork for a sustainable future, a cleaner environment, better treatment of animals, and better health.

There is nothing like that moment of CLICK, when a new issue of The Smoking Poet is launched. It takes a lot of work - calling for submissions, promoting and marketing, sorting through the submissions and responding to each contributor, editing the best ones for publication and working with writers from many points across the globe, then preparing the template for the Web, proofing, and proofing again. Until it begins all over again. Then it struck me. I could really use some help. Why not establish an internship with Kalamazoo College students who are creative writers but also computer savvy? Someone who knows a good turn of phrase, but also enough html code to make the poem look good on a Web page? Diane Seuss and I are now talking about just that - bringing a student or two to the masthead to help launch the next issue. Another "K" connection is born.

Visit The Smoking Poet to enjoy the many voices of Kalamazoo College - and keep coming back. We post new book reviews throughout the season, and later in this issue, you'll see a book review of yet another alumnus, Jothy Rosenberg, who has written a memoir called Who Says I Can't.

Not me. With a little Vitamin K, all things are possible.



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