The Picture of Success

Month: February, 2015

Write Riot Poetry Slam Featuring Ela Barton

Y’all, I am beyond excited for the Write Riot Poetry Slam this week.

The coolest part of being a literary event coordinator is getting to talk to some of your favorite writers. That’s why I got into this whole racket, anyway. I’m a fan girl, no two ways about it. This week I get to be a fan girl about the fantastic Ela Barton. And if you aren’t one yourself already, get ready to fall in love.

Introducing: Ela Barton

Ela Barton is a Black and Filipino, queer poet and artist living in Seattle, Washington. She is the 2007 Bainbridge Island Poetry Slam Champion, a four-time finalist of the Seattle Poetry Slam Grand Slam (2009,2010, 2011, 2012) and the first woman to win Jack McCarthy’s Evergreen Invitational (2011). In 2008, Barton placed 23 out of 72 at Women of the World Poetry Slam and in 2013, placed 16 out of 72 at Individual World Poetry Slam. In 2014, Barton was placed first in the Rain City Slam Championship earning her a spot on the first Rain City Slam National Team. At National Poetry Slam 2014, Rain City Slam placed 7th in the nation. Barton has taught Creative Writing and Performance Poetry at Bent: A Queer Writing Institute. Ela has been featured on National Public Radio and CITR 101.9,, Button Poetry, and King 5 (Seattle) News. Her work has been featured on Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women by Sibling Rivalry Press. She is founder of the Rain City Poetry Slam and adapted the concept of Vancouver’s “Mashed Poetics” to create a similar monthly, music inspired, poetry show, Liner Notes.

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See what I mean? All of the feelings.

Along with being a completely badass poet, Ela is also one of the people that helped me get Write Riot off the ground. She patiently answered every panicked message I sent her way, offering me nothing but reassurance. We owe her, like a lot. So how about we show her how we really feel, by coming to see her perform this Thursday? What do you think? I think it sounds lovely.

The Write Riot Poetry Slam
Thursday, February 19th
At the Honey Moon (in the alley behind the Pepper Sisters)
Sign ups for the Open Mic and the Slam start at 8:00 pm sharp
Show starts at 8:30
Free to attend, but you must support the venue (we love them!)
$2 to slam, but, as always, come talk to me if you can’t swing it.
We aren’t going to let money  get in the way of good work.



On Schedule

I am a woman with a plan.

I consider each moment of my day, each activity. I write lists upon lists, burying myself in yellow legal paper. I enjoy organization, find it deeply satisfying, almost arousing. I suppose it makes sense that one of my jobs is planning a writing conference. When I turned twenty five, I made a list of things I would do by the time I was thirty. Reading it, my friend Bob laughed at me, saying that I would never get all of it done, that my goals would change. And sure, they’ve changed in the past three years, but I’m actually on course to finish that list, thank you very much.

I like order because I like control, the idea that I’m able to hold some part of my life in my hand, the dream that I’m able to make some sense of what is constantly occurring around me. The hope that I can protect myself from both the unknown and the known. Of course, I can’t. I have had enough (quite excellent) therapists to know that I can’t actually control anything. But it never stops me from trying.

On January 25, 2015, my nephew Benicio del Roy Thomas Jessen Lohafer was born. I was there, and I have to tell you, birth is the wildest thing I have ever witnessed. Forget all that noise you see in the movies, with the lightly perspiring woman who labors for approximately fifteen minutes, only to be handed a (unrealistically clean) baby. All I saw was sheer, raw determination. Passion. A little fear. Maybe more than a little blood. Standing across from my baby brother, I was terrified, afraid I was going to get in the way, almost tripping over the cords at my feet. And still, we stayed. I tried to help, to encourage, knowing full well I wasn’t really doing anything, anyway.

Before the baby was born, I tried to reorganize my schedule for two weeks, making sure I’d make it to the birth in time. At the bar, half of the staff was on call, just in case. All of my regulars would ask me whether or not my nephew had arrived, probably sick of hearing about it already. There was one instance of false labor; I was working at the bar and I starting calling my co-workers frantically, desperate to get to the hospital. When I told my boss what was happening, she started laughing. “I’d bet $100 the baby doesn’t come today.” She was right. He didn’t show up for another week. No matter what I did, this unborn child would not follow my carefully constructed schedule. Apparently, that’s not really their thing. Maybe this baby is going to teach me to let go, a little.


Benicio,  you are, without a doubt, the best thing that’s ever interrupted my work week. You have perfect timing.


On Finishing Your MFA in Poetry

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Everything you hate about yourself.

Everything I hate about myself, who?

Shut up, you’re a failure.

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I am writing terrible jokes about therapy. This is my life after graduate school. Each day is filled with an exciting cycle of emotions: joy, indignation, crying, panic that I’m doing it right, panic that I’m doing it wrong, concern that I haven’t gotten married yet, exhaustion, jealousy, obsession, joy, crying, momentary awareness of my place in the universe and the terrible beauty of being really alive, disgust at my body, more crying, and subsequent obsessing over every woman my boyfriend has ever dated.
Then I go to work.

Sometimes I wonder if my brain has simply filled in the gaps that classes took up, hungry to work out a new issue, a new emotional hazard. I used to write critical responses to pop culture, grade hundreds of pages of English 101 papers. I would bartend, write poems, volunteer for a feminist literary organization, edit a graduate school journal, and then get high, eat dinner and go to sleep. Grad school anxiety came with the dead weight of imposter syndrome, a constant fear of getting caught, of not being good enough or smart enough. It didn’t matter how much I was doing, I was never doing enough. Sure, it was completely unsustainable, but at least it gave the days a rhythm. A structure.

Now I am free of structure. Full of student debt. Still bartending but also working my first honest to god grown up job, as the planner of a writers conference. I get to email authors who make me swoon; I re-read their rejection letters like they’re secret notes from a crush, Thanks for asking, but I’ll be out of the country.
Most of the time, I deal with writers who are closer to home, my friends, even. On good days, their emailed confirmations feel like tiny victories: yes! One of us! We’re doing this thing! On bad days, they feel like proof positive that I’m still one book deal behind.

I don’t write anymore, hardly at all. On lunch breaks, I try to scribble out a few words, song ideas for a musical, plot notes for the short stories I want to finish. It isn’t enough. My boyfriend and I make plans for my new writing structure; we will make sure I focus on my craft, now that I’ve moved into my new studio apartment. We won’t spend all winter watching Friends on Netflix. But it isn’t enough. I am always the thing that is in my way, always creating conflict. Some people keep themselves from their art because they are afraid of success, afraid of their own greatness. Sometimes I think I avoid writing because I would rather do almost anything else.

A few months ago, I taught a poetry workshop at the Fairhaven library. The median age was 65. These students were invested, excited; they wanted to hug me before class. Walking into the room, they would see me and say, “Oh! You must be the poet!” They made me feel like a real writer and I fucking loved it. During the session, I talked about what a turn does in poetry. I said the turn was something that caught the reader off guard, was completely unexpected, but still felt earned. You might not have known it was coming but it still made sense.

This essay wants to end in the dark, wants to tell you there’s nothing that can be done. That all of your hard work will never amount to anything you can put your hands on. And it might not.

But, you will keep writing. And I will keep writing. Because we have no choice.

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