Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Eléna Rivera

Elena RiveraEléna Rivera (Poetry, Translation) was born in Mexico City and spent her childhood in Paris. She is the author of The Perforated Map (Shearsman Books, 2011), Remembrance of Things Plastic (LRL e-editions 2010), Mistakes, Accidents and the Want of Liberty (Barque Press, 2006), and Suggestions at Every Turn (Seeing Eye Books, 2005). Her poems have appeared in The Nation, Drunken Boat, H_NGM_N, Zoland Poetry, Esopus, Aufgabe, Tarpaulin Sky, among others. Her chapbook On the Nature of Position and Tone is now available from Fields Press (2012). Eléna won the 2010 Robert Fagles prize in translation for her translation of The Rest of the Voyage by Bernard Noël, published by Graywolf Press in November 2011. She was also awarded a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Translation, and a 2009 Fundacíon Valparaíso Poetry Residency in Mojácar, Spain. She was the recipient of the 2007 Witter Bynner Poetry Translator Residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, and received a poetry fellowship from the MacDowell Colony. She teaches in the McGhee Division at New York University, at Bard College, for Poets & Writers, and recently taught a workshop on “Memory, Image and the Poem” at Poets House.

 

Selected Publications:

On the Nature of Position and Tone, Fields Press,Chicago and New York, 2012

The Perforated Map, Shearsman Books, U.K., 2011

Remembrance of Things Plastic, LRL e- editions, San Marcos, TX, 2010

In Respect of Distance, Beard of Bees #45 (on-line chapbook and audio), Chicago, IL 2007

Mistakes, Accidents, and A Want of Liberty, Barque Press,London, UK, 2006

Suggestions at Every Turn, Seeing Eye Books, Los Angeles, 2005

Disturbances in an Ocean of Air (pamphlet), Phylum Press, New Haven, CT 2005

Unknowne Land, Kelsey Street Press, Berkeley, CA, 2000

Her Hand and A Botanists Dream, Artist’s books, 1996

Wale; or The Corse, Leave Books, Buffalo, N.Y., 1994

The Wait; for Homer’s Penelope, EM Press, Mill Valley, CA, 1994

 Translations:

The Pain of Returning, by Isabelle Baladine Howald, Mindmade Books, Los Angeles, CA, 2012

The Rest of the Voyage, by Bernard Noël, Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2011

The 2010 Robert Fagles Translation Prize, National Poetry Series

Secrets of Breath, by Isabelle Baladine Howald, Burning Deck Press, Providence, RI 2008

Locus Solus, by Raymond Roussel, Chapter 5 (selection), Chicago Review, 2005

How I teach:

I always wrote, but came to the idea of being a writer late. In college I studied theater and philosophy. I also traveled and worked at all sorts of different jobs, until it came to me that the one constant in my life was writing. Writing I realized was something that I had to do, that I was always writing. After that everything in my life became about making writing possible, so that it would become difficult to find time to do anything else but write. Writing, like reading, helps me to live, teaches me about myself. I liken being a writer to being an artist or musician; we need to practice our craft so that what we have inside is able to come through.

As a teacher and mentor, I like to help students find their own unique ways to explore what writing means to them and what they hope to accomplish. The marvelous thing about poetry, or any writing, is that we never know what we’re going to be writing (what’s underneath) until we write it. That said, it is what we think we want to write, our ideas and sensibility to language, that take us toward this unknown, which is all about something in us that needs to be heard, written, seen.

I was born in Mexico City and at the age of three moved to France where I lived until I was thirteen. I was attuned to language at an early age. I think of my journey as one to find, as the French writer Marie Cardinal put it, “The words to say it.” I learned English memorizing sonnets by Shakespeare and by listening closely and reading widely--all habits that have had a deep impact on my writing and teaching.

The habit of writing is key (or as a teacher once told me: “Discipline is doing what you want”). It’s important for students of writing to write often, to practice, to memorize, to listen, read widely and wisely, to be willing to try new things. I will work with students and make reading suggestions (in poetry, prose or non-fiction) to guide and inspire them. Reading the past we are able to write in the present as we move toward the future. It is important for students to know that they are part of a lineage—that they are in an ongoing dialogue with other writers and artists.

My goal is to work closely with students, ask them about the kind of feedback that would best help them, as well as encouraging them to develop a vocabulary for their writing. I value the study of form, the sonnet, sestina, rondeau, ekphrasis, among others, as well as work on open forms and/or lyric prose. I want students to write a lot, to find themselves writing more, developing a sense of their writing in relation to other writers and poets, and other fields of art. I also think it is important to engage students in various experiments and rigorous play, to give them prompts to generate new writing and challenge old assumptions (to bring out the best in them). All this with no goal in mind but the students’ own potential. Should a student desire it, we can also work with translation. Translation is a very useful tool for understanding the importance of word choice and any student with more than one language (or even just a smattering of one) would be encouraged to work on some translations if they so desire.

I like students to send me their packets via email, and depending on students’ preferences, I will respond by annotating the poems, by writing written feedback on a separate page, and/or by asking questions. I am happy working with students on long or short projects, discussing issues of poetics, and engaging students in discussion of reading. I will be available for further consultations via email, Skype and/or phone to clarify and deepen our understanding of what the student most needs at that particular time. Sometimes I will ask students to read their work on over the phone so that I can get a better understanding of the sound and rhythm a student is aiming for.

I believe in being a conduit for student's writing. I am not interested in imposing my predilections on a student, but instead prefer eclectic styles, modes and approaches. I am interested in the uniqueness of each and every one of my students, and how to mine the talent and aptitude that is already there. Nothing is better than conversing and engaging with students. I have had such marvelous teachers myself, and have seen how a shared and mutual dialogue in the art can help to develop our abilities, lead us in new directions, and sustain us throughout our writing life.