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Life and Work with Michelle Bitting

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Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Bitting.

Michelle, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m a dedicated poet and teacher of creative writing. I’ve been in the arts my entire life and all pursuits have led to and fed my writing talent and abilities as an inspirational educator. I fell in love with Federico Garcia Lorca and Dylan Thomas as an actor in college. I like to think my years as a professional modern dancer (culminating in a two-year stint with Twyla Tharp here in Los Angeles — swoon) and the writing I did with my feet on and off the ground and body in the air was a kind of poetry in motion. I also apprenticed in the Campanile kitchen with star chef Nancy Silverton. That was a couple decades ago. It’s all stock for a rich poetic soup now. I’ve been writing and teaching for over 15 years, with multiple books, poetry and teaching awards plus a LONG list of publications. Everything is connected and an ever-rich source for creative writing.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Anyone who enters a life in the arts without a back up employment or solid financial plan is asking for trouble. My husband is an actor. I’m a poet. Need I say more? And yet, so much gold panned from the trials and tribulations! Especially notable once you are OUT of the danger, the suffering zones. My brother, a rising painter and poet suffered from mental illness and took his life when I was 30. Devastating. I’ll never really get “over” it. Some of my best poems come from that horrible loss. I know he’d be proud. Not everyone makes it. We endure. There is so much beauty in the world. Find it. Make it. Believe in it. And don’t be afraid to be loud and ugly.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Michelle Bitting–Poet & Professor – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Writing poetry, making and looking at art and thinking about books, we figure out ourselves and understand our intense interconnectedness to each other. I teach like my little life on this planet depends on it, imparting a love of learning and passion for writing in my students that I hope helps make what they imagine they are capable of expanding beyond their wildest visions. I believe in writing and living with abandon; at the same time, I am extremely disciplined about my work. There is a necessary tension between those two things. They can be practiced simultaneously, although not always smoothly or easily. Art, like life, is messy. With regular exercise, you become a better wrangler. Here’s what I’ve done over the past decade or so.

Michelle Bitting’s latest collection is The Couple Who Fell to Earth (C & R Press, 2016), named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016. A fourth collection Broken Kingdom won the Catamaran Poetry Prize and will be published by Risk Press in 2018. She has poems published in The American Poetry Review, Narrative, Prairie Schooner, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review, Love’s Executive Order, Vinyl Poetry, Plume, Diode, the Paris-American, Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review (“Renga for Obama”), AJP, Thrush, Fjords, Rattle, Raleigh Review and others. Poems have appeared on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily and in numerous anthologies including Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond and Myrrh, Mothwing, Smoke: Erotic Poems from Tupelo Press. Her book Good Friday Kiss, chosen by Thomas Lux won the DeNovo First Book Award and Notes to the Beloved won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award, earned a starred review from Kirkus and was re-issued by C & R Press in 2018. She has won awards from Glimmer Train and the Beyond Baroque Foundation and been a finalist for the Poet’s & Writer’s Magazine California Exchange, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Julia Peterkin, and Rita Dove poetry awards. Poems have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes (including Best of the Net 2017 from Thrush Poetry Journal) and most recently, The Pablo Neruda, American Literary Review, and Tupelo Quarterly Poetry contests. Michelle won the 2018 Mark Fischer Poetry Prize. She has taught poetry in the U.C.L.A. Extension Writer’s Program, at Twin Towers prison and for ten years has been an active California Poet in the Schools, reaching over 500 student poets per year. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, Oregon, an MA in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology, and in summer 2018, will complete a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Michelle is the Poet Laureate of Pacific Palisades and has won grants from the Optimists Club and Poets and Writers Magazine for her teaching work in Los Angeles. This fall she joins the English Department at Loyola Marymount University as a Lecturer in Poetry and Creative Writing Studies. For more info: www.michellebitting.com

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
For a budding/emerging poet, I recommend committing to a consistent writing practice. Also, you must read a LOT. Figure out who loves you, who shakes your proverbial tree, from where the best tasting fruit opens and falls. If you are serious about your life as a poet, as a voice in the world that wants to join the grand conversation, the fruit will fall into your palm at some unsuspected moment. Once you know who you really dig and want to follow, try to go study and be in the presence of that person as a listener/watcher. Emulation is a totally legit mode of entrance. Eventually, you make your own dance pattern. I’ve had some extraordinary mentors. My first literary mamas were Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, and Anne Sexton (even if she’s been dead a while). Still counts. *smiles*

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