The Poetry Exchange Project, or PXP, was a new and experimental collaboration between poetry classes between Tulane University in Louisiana, lead by Professor Andy Stallings, and SU, led by Zach Savich.
Both classes looked at and discussed Julie Carr’s book of poetry “100 Notes on Violence,” Daniel Khalastchi’s book “Manoleria,” Kiki Petrosino’s book “Fort Red Border” and Shane McCrae’s “Mule.”
First in the weekend came a creative writing class with Andy Stallings at Tulane University that focused on essays, poetry and fiction. Poets Kiki Petrosino and Savich spoke to students, answering questions about their work and about Petrosino’s choice to include poetry about her afro.
Originally, she had it straightened as a child and felt, she said, that her “natural hair wasn’t good.” Now, it adds to her confidence and she refuses to let it be tied to anything political.
Questions about her character of Robert Redford in her book of poetry “Fort Red Border” came up, as well as her decision to include him, in particular.
“Why not? At any given moment Robert Redford was on TV,” Petrosino replied, smiling as the students laughed. She went on to talk about one particular Redford film “Out of Africa.”
“Scenes spoke to my internal dynamic between speaker and Redford and what he represents, like un-attainability and masculinity,” she said.
Student presentations on the work varied from student to student and were a culmination of their work throughout the semester.
One project focused on the idea of text-less communication and had communication entirely by videos. There was also a response to violence with words in images, a look into mental illness, children and violence and a discussion of violence and the ability to express it without the usual violent wording that resulted in original works of poetry.
There were also several panels during the conference, including one on publishing, editing and community building within poetry. Representatives and poets came from all over, including Daniel Rosenberg from the online magazine “Transom,” Caryl Pagel from “Rescue Press,” Nik De Dominic from “The Offending Adam” and Carolyn Webster from “Bayou.”
Discussions included the idea of varying reading styles, the idea of print versus online literary journals and magazines, as well as the idea of developing relationships within the poetry community.
“Respect others’ work and help them. Feed each other first,” Petrosino said on the community.
Daniel Khalastchi, poet of a discussed book and panelist, also spoke on the topic.
“The poetry community encourages those who have been silenced to speak out,” he said.
One of the books studied is Petrosino’s “Fort Red Border.”
While developing her dialogue for her characters in the book, she used some interesting ways in finding her inspiration.
“The best conversations are at meals,” she said. “I base a lot of it around food.”
And on her character of Redford, she thinks of him as a “ghost of something,” more than just a person.
“He’s not as flat as a symbol or round as a person,” Petrosino said.
She is currently working on another book of poetry, which will feature work inspired by Andrew Jackson’s “Notes on Virginia,” namely Query 14, in which he discusses the “scientific reasons” that white men are superior.
“I found the most horrible line and decided to write poetry from it,” she said. The line she chose reads as, “They secrete less by the kidneys and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour.”
Some have talked about her work being similar to fan fiction or stories written off of or based on real life or famous people.
“I don’t think it’s fan fiction because fan fiction takes characters who are presented and corresponds to the real world,” she said. “It is all about the speaker’s perceptions and version of Redford, not what Redford probably is like.”
What is a main question she has for readers?
“I want the reader to be curious about the speaker. Why are they attracted to specific parts? I want them to want to know more about her.”
At the end of the conference came readings by Kiki Petrosino, Michelle Taransky, Blueberry Morningsnow and Daniel Khalastchi.
At the end of the night, it was obvious that the conference and project had been a success.
Poet and student alike sat together and talked about everything from writing to publishing poetry, to New Orleans culture, and most importantly, to the ideas that poetry brings up and what the future holds.