A Year in Readings

Being bawdy at Austin Writers Roulette in February 2015

Being bawdy at Austin Writers Roulette in February 2015

At last year’s Poetry at Round Top festival, which was also the weekend of my 30th birthday, I gave myself a challenge: to do at least one reading a month before I turned 31. I was going to read in public at least once a month, either at an open mic or as a feature. It didn’t matter if it was one poem or several. I was just going to get up and get out there. That meant 12 performances of one kind or another in my 30th year.

At the Georgetown Poetry Festival

At the Georgetown Poetry Festival

As it turns out, doing one reading every single month was quite challenging, and some months I didn’t read at all… But I not only met my goal, I surpassed it! In November, for example, I was too busy training for my black belt test to schedule anything. And while there are poetry readings and open mics just about every week in Austin, some months, I couldn’t get anything that meshed with my work schedule. But there were other months full of abundance. December was particularly active; I read four times!

I ended up reading 16 times. 13 of those times were in Austin, one was in Georgetown, one was in Fort Worth, and one in Waco. This year my schedule was just too heavy for me to get to San Antonio or Houston again. I can’t believe I haven’t read in either of those cities in over a year!

Now that this challenge has been met, I plan to keep it up. Reading 12 times in a year was tough at times, but overall doable. Now I’m just trying to figure out what the literary challenge will be for Year 31!

Big Poetry Giveaway 2015!

The sixth Big Poetry Giveaway is up and running! The fabulous Kelli Russell Agodon is hosting again. And I’m looking forward to another great year of meeting new poets and sharing poetry.

This year, I’m giving away two books. First up is my chapbook, We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

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I wrote the poems that became this chapbook after I had lived in Texas for about two years. It’s about finding place, falling in love with geography, taking journeys.

The second book I’m offering is an anthology called America Zen: A Gathering of Poets. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to love this anthology. The poets in it are Buddhists, but their meditative, spiritual, joyful work transcends a single spiritual label.

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So how do you win? Just leave a comment with a name and email address anytime between now and 11:59 p.m. on April 30th. I’ll randomly select a winner in May!

For details on how to join BPG, see Kelli’s post here.

Since Big Poetry Giveaway always draws new readers here, I like to take a cue from Kelli and do a little introduction of sorts. Kelli gave herself some great interview questions this year, so I’ll be using those.

Welcome! My name is Allyson Whipple. I run the Austin Feminist Poetry Festival and am co-editor of the 2015 Texas Poetry Calendar. I have a black belt in Hung Gar Kung Fu and am training to become an instructor. I also teach business and technical writing at Austin Community College.

Last year I: Saw my favorite band twice in two days, earned my black belt, got divorced, got some of Kay Ryan’s poetry tattooed on my arm, and applied to an MFA program (I am still waiting their decision).

I believe in universal healthcare.

I like sunshine, red wine, tacos, steak, the ocean, silver tequila, and jeans.

I am always looking for ketchup potato chips, which are nearly impossible to find in Texas.

People think I am not interested in hip-hop or country music, when in fact I like both.

I recently: perfected my homemade bagel recipe.

If I could live anywhere: I would stay where I am, except in a house that didn’t have foundation problems or a roommate.

I do not buy bread from the grocery store. I’ve gotten too spoiled from my own baking.

I am thankful for the amazing poetry opportunities that have come my way in the past few months.

I cheer for Cleveland and Ohio State (on the rare occasion I pay attention, which is almost never).

To me, success is actually pretty much 100% what Kelli said: “being able to control my own time and schedule.”

My writing process is all up in the air right now, as I’ve turned my attention to getting my first full-length collection prepared for publication. (Hopefully this year, but we’ll see.)

I am most like: an agave.

Weekly Writing Prompt: The Nagging Villanelle

Think of a phrase you hate to hear. Maybe it’s something your parents said over and over to you about doing your homework or cleaning your room or not going out dressed a certain way. Maybe it’s something a spouse or significant other says (or used to say). Maybe it’s something your toddler is constantly repeating and you just don’t know why.

Make this phrase one of the refrains of a villanelle. (It can be either the first or the second.) Try to find some catharsis from this poem. Or maybe you can shed some humor on the situation. Either way, enjoy!

For more information about writing a villanelle, check out the description from the Academy of American Poets.

Sourdough Rye Bagels

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(I know this is mostly a poetry blog. It’s been probably two years since I last wrote about food. But several people have requested my bagel recipe, so here it is!)

I love bagels. And as much as I love Texas, quality bagels are difficult to get down here. So as I began to get more experienced with baking bread, I decided to give bagels a try.

My first two attempts were pretty dismal, and I didn’t try again for a few years. But I decided after I moved into my current place that I really wanted to give them a try again. I’ve been making a batch at least once a month, trying to get bagels right. Finally, last weekend, I hit the jackpot, and I have taste-tester agreement to confirm it.

The recipe I use is based off of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s bagel recipe, which can be found in The Bread Bible. This recipe has served as my template, but the additions of sourdough and rye are my own.

To begin, you will need an established sourdough starter. Your starter can be liquid or stiff. I personally use a stiff starter, and that’s what’s called for in this recipe. For more information on starters, check out this article by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Time: At least 8 hours (most of this involve dough rising), or as many as 48.
Yield: Approximately 10 bagels
Note: Although this goes without saying for experienced sourdough users, you should give your starter a good feeding before using it in this recipe.

Ingredients:
Bagel Starter
Approx. 1/4 cup stiff sourdough starter
2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
3 cups bread flour

Flour mixture
2 cups bread flour
1/3 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
1 tablespoon malt powder or barley malt syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Water Bath
2 tablespoons molasses or 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Glaze and topping
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cold water
3-4 tablespoons caraway seeds

Procedure
1. Combine the flour and water for the bagel starter. Tear up the stiff starter into small pieces. Stir together until they make a lumpy, thick batter. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap
2. In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the flour mixture. Remove the starter cover and pour the flour mixture on top of it, covering the starter. Re-cover. Let stand 1-4 hours at room temperature, or 1 hour at room temperature and then refrigerated for up to 24 hours. (The longer it refrigerates, the stronger the flavor)
3. If the starter has been refrigerated, let stand at room temperature 30 minutes prior to mixing. If you’re using a mixer, put your dough hook on a low setting and mix 8-10 minutes. If by hand, stir the flour into the starter and then knead 10-15 minutes. You may need to add additional flour if the dough is sticky. Do so gradually, about a teaspoon at a time.
4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and oil the top. Cover. Let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled. Deflate the dough, give it an envelope turn, and put it back in the container. Re-oil, cover, and refrigerate 4-12 hours.
5. Let refrigerated dough stand at room temperature 30 minutes before shaping. Cut the dough into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then make a hole in the center with your finger. Hook your thumbs through the hole and stretch it until the hole is about 2.5 inches in diameter. Cover the dough with a towel and let rest for about 10 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 500 and then bring a pot of water to a boil. Stir in the molasses/sugar and baking soda. Boil the bagels for 30 seconds to 2 minutes per side (longer boiling time results in a thicker crust). You will probably only be able to boil 2 bagels at a time. Remove the boiled bagels with a slotted skimmer and place them on parchment or a towel to drain.
7. Whisk the eggs whites and water together. Brush each bagel with two coats. Sprinkle the seeds over each bagel.
8. Bake the bagels at 500 for 5 minutes. Drop the heat to 450 and then bake for 20 minutes.
Note: Beranbaum’s recipe has you then turn off the oven but leave the bagels in for 5 minutes, and then prop open the oven door and leave them in 5 minutes more. Mine always come out overdone when I follow those last steps, but if your bagels don’t look quite done, add those last ten minutes to your baking time.
9. Enjoy bagels with the topping of your choice.

Weekly Writing Prompt: Alive!

Image credit: Allie Brosch, Hyperbole and a Half

Image credit: Allie Brosch, Hyperbole and a Half

On this date five years ago, I was riding my Linhai scooter down a major Austin street, and was hit head-on by someone making an illegal left turn. I had a major concussion, needed stitches in my lip, and had to have my front two teeth replaced. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I would be dead. I always commemorate March 15th as a turning point in my life, and take this day to be grateful that I am still here writing poetry. 

Today, write about a near-death experience. Even if you haven’t had one, make one up. Stretch the truth, warp the details. Maybe a paper cut developed gangrene. The subject doesn’t have to be you, either. It could be a loved one or a fictional character.

After you write your experience, go further, writing about the sense of gratitude that you or your character has. Even if you’ve had to struggle since then, what are you happy about? What insight has this experience yielded for you or your subject.

Bonus challenge: write this as a Petrarchan sonnet, with the octave being the near-death experience and the sestet the place where you cultivate gratitude.

(PS – There’s one day left to register for Poetry March Madness! In celebration of being alive, anyone who signs up today will get in for 50% off. It’s just $10 if you register today!)