How does one better their craft? You can practice, practice, practice; or you can do it the old fashion way and teach. Everyday we learn something new, but we must hold fire with those who teach us in order to complete the circle of learning.
You teach me. I’ll teach you. Learning is always mutual.
With that said, we have two wonderful professors and teachers that we put the spotlight on in our second issue. David Belz & Dr. Kathleen Hellen show us that if writing is wrong, we don’t want to do right! (Read below for WFW’s Spotlight Authors).
“Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number”
Sure, it took thirty or so years, but yes, David Belz has published his first book.In a drawn-out, yet fortuitous and sudden way, the Loyola alum-turned-Loyola professor completed his first book, White Asparagus, which was released on July 1st. White Asparagus is a personal anthology of assorted pieces completed by Belz since 1980. A self-proclaimed “closet novelist,” Belz chose 20 essays, 15 poems, 13 short stories and even three cartoons to be included in the collection.
“People asked me, ‘why didn’t you write this 10 years earlier?’ Well, because it wasn’t ready yet,” Belz jokes. White Asparagus serves not only as a book, but as a roadmap of Belz’s literary journey through life, with its numerous pit stops in different genres. But as capricious as White Asparagus may seem at first glance, its 51 pieces actually tie together seamlessly, and often, uproariously.
“My main goal is for my fiction to entertain and enlighten,” Belz claims. Many of the works in White Asparagus are humorous, since Belz began his career writing light, amusing articles for various Op-Ed publications. “I construct my fiction to first, entertain myself, and also to entertain others who like to read.”
Take White Asparagus, the title story of the collection, for example. Belz explains the tale as “The Twilight Zone crossed with Monty Python.” White Asparagus tips the scales with non-photosynthesizing vegetables (that look strangely similar to dead fingers when peeking out of the ground), a quirky, obsessed husband, a neglected, dying wife and a paranoid, homewrecking hardware store employee.
In many of Belz’s pieces, he examines conflict between people in everyday life. Years ago, Belz overheard a German woman speaking about the Holocaust and World War II say, “Someone is always crazy. When two are, it’s worse.” This defeated, truthful adage stuck with him and became a theme in his book.
“Everything related to human culture, to human history, stems from [the German saying],” Belz explains. And even as readers are entertained while journeying through White Asparagus’ contents, Belz’s choice to select works that reflect the proverb often enlighten the reader, even as they’re smiling or laughing. And to add realism to the assorted works, the author often uses familiar settings as backdrops, such as Roland Park, a neighborhood steps away from Loyola’s campus.
But Baltimore didn’t just serve as creative inspiration for Belz. In many ways, White Asparagus was a community-wide effort. Although Belz wrote everything himself, without old friends, fellow professors and soliciting students, the book wouldn’t be in existence today.
Two years ago, Belz was speaking casually to Gregg Wilhelm, a Loyola Professor and Editor-in-Chief of Apprentice House publishing house. “I said, ‘I think I might have enough for a book. He said ‘hold that thought.’ A few weeks later I got a call,” Belz remembers. Later, a Loyola student approached, asking for his manuscript to put together a publishing plan. Another Loyola professor and friend, Kevin Atticks, even helped him pick out a title for the anthology.
“It was called Cellophane Tuxedo. I just made it up,” he admits. “But there was no way to illustrate that.” So he spoke to Atticks.
Atticks asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to have a title that has something to do with the book?” And with that, White Asparagus was born.
But of course, friends are there to give you, not publishing deals and cool titles, but confidence and support. White Asparagus may first seem out of place, since it’s one of the first and only books published by Apprentice House that contains fiction, poetry and art. But to Wilhelm, it fit right in.
He said to Belz, “We’re not publishing this to make money; we’re publishing this book because it needs to be published.”
And to a writer like Belz, who’s probably seen it and done it all throughout his 30-year career, what else really needs to be said?
“The Art of the Poetic Dialogue”
Some people may be poets and not even know it. On the other hand, there are accomplished poets who are willing to not only share their work with their community, but also help other writers develop their lyrical skills. One such poet is Dr. Kathleen Hellen, whose work has appeared in publications ranging from The Cortland Review to Southern Poetry Review. Dr. Hellen manages to spread the joys of literature by teaching writing and journalism at Coppin State University in Maryland.
However, Dr. Hellen feels that her job as a professor is not a one-way street; her students frequently open her mind to new concepts and ideas in poetry. Hellen said, “Working with student-poets has opened my purview to contemporary rhythms, contemporary styles…”. It is encouraging to hear, as a recent graduate, that our work leaves a lasting impact on our professors beyond the mark of letter grade. After all, even the most classic poets had to start somewhere.
Inspiration is something that often strikes the non-poet as something of an enigma. Typically, the best poets seem to find inspiration from universal sources such as family, friends and nature. We can find poetry in almost any and every thing, but many of Dr. Hellen’s poems tend to follow the memoir-style similar to Wordsworth and Whitman. Still, the most beautiful poetry is not a simple rehashing of the past but rather a delicate “reimagination.” Dr. Hellen shared with us at Write From Wrong that memory can be a powerful thing and it is, “one of the three original muses, allowing us to re-imagine the past”.
But what about inspiration from other great poets? Where should we draw the line? Some people wonder whether it is dangerous to digest the works of others while composing your own while others meander the works of late and great poets alike. The line between studying great poets and incorporating too much of their style in one’s own work can be very thin.
According to Dr. Hellen, “Reading other poets is required if you want to become a better poet…Sometimes when I write, it is a dialogue with another poet. A response, if you will, to what they have written.” Imagine the ability to converse with poetic geniuses such as Eliot and Lorca through one’s own poetry.
Still, as irreplaceable as the serenity that comes from sitting with the poetry you have just written, sometimes the indispensable reward is official publication. Every published author had to start somewhere, and for Dr. Hellen this was the publication of her short story titled, “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”.
This left us wondering if after the first success of being published, is rejection a thing of the past? Thankfully, Dr. Hellen was humble enough to share the truth. Rejection is part of every author’s life, stating the difference between “good” and “bad” rejection in terms of personalized comments from an editor (good rejection) and a generic letter response (bad rejection).
However, to Dr. Hellen this is merely a sign that the reader lacked a connection to the piece. A published piece is often a sign of genuine communication, and she says that, “When I find the reader/editor who actively participates in what I have written, it is a true transaction.”
Dr. Kathleen Hellen’s work has appeared in Barrow Street; Cimarron Review; The Cortland Review; the Hollins Critic; Nimrod; Prairie Schooner; Salamander; Southern Poetry Review; Subtropics; Witness; among others. Awards include the Washington Square Review, James Still and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the city of Baltimore. Forthcoming from Finishing Line Press is her chapbook The Girl Who Loved Mothra. Her work was recently selected for inclusion in the current exhibition of work from the Mid Atlantic Artist Registry, an online exhibition of poetry entitled On Both Sides of Our Front Door. A contributing editor for the Baltimore Review, she teaches creative writing and journalism at Coppin State University.