Late September News: Penn Cove Award goes to Bethany F. Brengan

Congrats to Bethany F. Brengan of Port Hadlock, WA, our September sock-knocker-offer, the winner of September 2015’s Penn Cove Award. She has a haphazard blog and charmed us with her clever footnotes.

Marginalia, or Scholar’s Folly

 I used to always read with a pen in my hand, as if the author and I were in a conversation.
(Tara Bray Smith)

The more you think, the sicker you get.
(anonymous student in my used copy of Hamlet, Act III, scene 1, v. 90–91)

First, you roll in the printer’s gutters,
streaking your sleeves black,
your thumb, blue. Each man sullies
the thing he loves, overanalyzing and under-
lining, tattooing
“Killjoy was here” on the text’s
blank thighs. We walk off the edges
of the words: here be beasts
that could swallow dragons. And eventually,
footnoting spins into soothsaying, into cross-referencing themes
in the material world and searching for text
to support your interpretations of living. Thomas More
scribbled in his prayer book,
hoping to “bear the cross with Christ,” while Henry VIII
amended his Bible to assure himself
that “the king trusteth in the Lord,
and through the mercy of the most High
he shall not be moved.” I try to resist

cluttering my neighborhood with
asterisks, but in every stone I see a sermon
asking for annotation; in every litterbug’s
leavings, an omen, begging augury.
Near the corner of Mason and Sycamore, the wind shuffles
a discarded deck; the two and the seven of spades
land face up in the ditch. I’m homebound,
and I avert my curiosity. But when I hit Cedar,
a dozen feminine napkins
has been dealt to my feet.1 This path
passes the school. And I picture the backpack
split, spewing squares of taboo—the girl
sprinting home, her cheeks as pink as the wrappers.2
Or maybe she scatters her petals
deliberately. A middle-school middle finger,
a “Take that, world!”
which the world silently took, as it takes
all things. And now, it’s too late—

I am white-rabbit-trailing, falling fast
down the pages of my neighborhood, losing the
narrative thread of my walk. Two gray titmice
have tumbled to the pavement in the past two days. [A coincidence?
A conspiracy?] I leave question marks
next to their bodies.3 Withered
roses are stuffed inside
a rusted mailbox.4 I highlight their
symbolism with a sunbeam. [A message
to or from the afterlife?] The maple leaf’s palm
requires proofreading. Commentary
devolves into strings and arrows of outrageous
punctuation, overlapped and undermining
every centimeter of field and forest, rain gullies
and side-streets, until this air is gray with
graphite, until my notes become nothing
but unreadable prayers: the original language
of all flustered observers
standing at the curb, at the bank
of the stream, watching
the body of text flow past.


1The Moon: mystery and magic, and according to Waite, the life of the imagination apart from life of the spirit.
2Dear anonymous student: Was it necessary to underline “Frailty thy name is woman!” so heavily? And in pen? How do you think that makes me feel?
3What had they done? Whose eyes were on them, and why?
4Anonymous student, I hope you are well. I hope your teacher judged you kindly, all those years ago.

Whidbey MFA Faculty News

We students are thrilled to learn of two new faculty members joining our program. Both have taught at our residencies in the past, so we know how lucky we are.

Gary Copeland Lilley is our newest poetry faculty member.

From Assistant Director Ana Maria Spagna: He is an amazing poet, author of several collections including the award-winning Alpha Zulu from Ausable Press an imprint of Copper Canyon. His work has been anthologized extensively including in Best American Poetry 2014. He’s a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA program and has taught at universities, writing conferences, and community outreach programs across the country. He is a musician and a navy veteran. He is, I think, a perfect fit for our community here at NILA. Hear him read it’s about the ponies.

Melissa Hart is our newest nonfiction faculty member.

From Assistant Director Ana Maria Spagna: She is a wonderful teacher and a dear friend of NILA — she’s visited three times as guest faculty and she’s taught two fabulous Post-MFA courses online, one on memoir and one on feature writing. We’ve read her first book Gringa in Directed Reading, and many of you have also had a chance to read Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. She’s a columnist and contributing editor at The Writer and has published articles and essays in publications such as The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The LA Times Sunday magazine. The list goes on and on. She’s been teaching in the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon, and now she’ll be teaching us.

Whidbey MFA Spotlight: Marie Hartung

IMG_1033“I never thought I would be back for another master’s degree. I spent the last 15 years in the corporate world leading diversity initiatives,” Whidbey MFA student Marie Hartung said when we caught up with her recently. “This writing thing really took me by surprise!

“Carolyne Wright [Poetry Faculty] has been a fantastic mentor and friend,” Marie said. “She has been very patient with my English deficiencies (grammar!) since I came into this program with virtually no college level English under my belt. She also is an extremely generous person who genuinely wants her students and anyone to be successful.”

“For years I was an advisory board member for Out and Equal and had the privilege to be a thought leader on topics of sexuality, specifically bisexuality, in the workplace,” Marie said. “I gave up the corporate world to become a realtor and freelance writer and to be home more often with my boys, age 9 and 12. My boys are both biologically mine but are legally adopted by my ex-spouse so my life experience as an adopted person has really helped me raise them in their blended world.”

“My spouse, Joscelyne, works for Redfin and we have 5 cats, 1 dog, a hamster, a conure, and a bearded dragon. I’m a self-proclaimed obsessive housecleaner and have a passion for home staging. My entire goal in life is to climb Kilimanjaro.”

IMG_1037Marie is a compelling performer at readings and served as Poetry Editor for the Soundings Review for two years. She completed her poetry thesis, Blood from a Folding Sky, in 2014. She’s currently working on her thesis in nonfiction, a memoir titled “Apple Fallen Elsewhere,” about her experience finding out as an adult she was adopted.

Check out her wordsmithing online:

Marie’s publications include work in Soundings Review, Talking River Journal, Thin Air Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, Third Wednesday and in the several anthologies, including Best New Writing 2015. She sometimes blogs her thoughts.

Alumna Iris Granville’s memoir to be published

Great news from one of our alums. Iris Granville (Class of 2014) has found a perfect fit for her memoir — Homebound Publications will be publishing her new book, Hiking Naked—A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. (This was her thesis. Woot!)

The manuscript is also currently a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2015 Literary Contest.

Congrats to Iris for her well-deserved success!

Early in September News

Our socks did not get knocked off in August. We did have a flurry of last-minute entries that it took a while to get through, hence this delay.

We have had a few entries that were automatically disqualified. Here’s a reminder:

  • No more than 1000 words.
  • The Penn Cove Award is only open to residents of the USA.

From now to the end of this calendar year, we will have no theme for the award. We welcome your awesomest, please send it our way!