New Year, New Blog, New Writing Projects

While musings on memes, celebratory posts about publications, and recaps of cool events have dominated my Facebook feed for the past year, I have neglected the blog I started at age sixteen. But with the upcoming release of my new poetry book (did I mention I’m coming out with another book?!), I want to return to my roots.

Here you’ll find unpublishable diatribes about writing, links to interviews, and more. & with a brand new, cleaner look not reminiscent of the middle school emo phase.

So what’s happened since 2017?

1.I’m releasing a new book of poetry!

PRA Publishing will be producing my second chapbook of poetry, as of yet untitled, in Fall 2018. This means I’ll be reading from the book often and uploading videos to my personal Youtube channel, which you can find here. I will also be attending festivals, reading at poetry events, and rocking stages across the country. You can find more about those dates on my website DerekBerryWriter.com. More info is forthcoming.

 

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2. I’m co-hosting a podcast Contribute Your Verse!

My poet friends & I often have long, funny, insightful conversations about poetry, the state of the publishing world, and community poetry. We’ve decided to record these conversations and make them available for people to listen. I’ll be speaking every two weeks with Loren Mixon & Matthew Foley (click the names to find their info) about subjects ranging from open mics poetry tours, self-confidence, self-publishing, our favorite books, and more. Contribute Your Verse focuses on emerging wordsmiths and their thoughts on craft, community, and careers in writing.  You can find us on Itunes, Stitcher, & Soundcloud. 

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3. I’m speaking at TEDxAugusta!

I have been wanting to give a TED Talk ever since I first saw poets rock the stage. Now I’m involved with an awesome locally-curated event called TEDxAugusta. I’ll be reading a brand new poem on February 3rd at the Miller Theatre. You can find tickets here.

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4. The Unspoken Word is now a non-profit!

After significant paperwork, we became approved for 501(3)c status. We also snagged our first grant through Lowcountry Quarterly Arts Grant. If you want to read more about our mission in Charleston, click here, and if you want to send us a tax-deductible donation, you can do that HERE.

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5.The Unspoken Word is releasing a literary magazine!

Vol. 1, issue 1 of Good Juju Review drops this March! The journal drops in March 2018 and features some of the most dynamic voices from the Lowcountry. I had the pleasure of editing and curating the journal, which we hope will cultivate the growing careers of Charleston writers.

6. We’re writing poems at Food & Wine Festival!

The Unspoken Word will be providing poets to write Typewriter Poems at the Food & Wine Festival. We have been sharpening our poetic swords each week at the Farmer’s Market since the 2017 Free Verse Festival. We’re returning for the Food & Wine Festival on March 1st-March 3rd.

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7. I’m reading on a panel at the Deckle Edge Festival!

I’ll be reading as part of a panel on Spoken Word Poetry at the Deckle Edge Festival, Columbia’s premiere literary festival. More info forthcoming.

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If you want to keep up with all the awesome projects I’m involved with, go “like” my page on Facebook to learn more.

 

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Literary Adventures Come More Frequently Lately

This week has been so far incredible, and now I’m gearing up for a slightly quieter week of writing and editing and putting my head down so that the copy-edit of the final draft of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County can be finished.

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I got a poem published in RiverSedge, a lit journal based out of the Texas-Pan American Press. I will update on which poem got published once the journal is released.

Recently, I also received publication in The Southern Tablet. You can read my poem here: When You’re Sixteen In a Small Southern Town. It’s a fun poem about childhood and growing up, which is probably one of my favorite non-slam poems I’ve written recently.

On Saturday, I got the honor of being in my hometown newspaper The Aiken Standard. Entertainment writer Stephanie Turner penned an awesome feature about my first novel, my burgeoning poetry career, and my creative process. I was very happy at work that morning as several people approached me, having recognized my picture from the article. It’s been an interesting summer in Aiken, SC, because I always felt like in Charleston, people know me as a writer and in Aiken, people don’t know me as anything. But that is starting to change, and I hope only I can remain humbled and grateful about the opportunities afforded to me.

Read the Article here: Aiken Poet Completes First Novel.

Poetry, too, has blessed me this week with an incredible energy. On Wednesday night, Nova (a fellow poet and my significant other) and myself drove up to Greenville, SC to compete in a small slam hosted by Moody Black. I was happy to catch up with my poet family, especially one brother who is about to join the Navy. The event stoked my love for the spoken word art form and taught me just a little bit more about the competitive side of poetry. Check out the slam winner Annie Lee, picture below.

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The very next evening, I attended an open mic at MAD Studios in Augusta. I have featured here before and love the venue. This week, Bilaal Muhammed blessed us with some poetry. Augusta Poet Laureate SleepyEyez Carter was instrumental in bringing out many of the city’s poets and performers for an evening of high-energy love. During that evening, I learned that both Sleepy and Brotha Trav (the previous poet laureate) were heading to Atlanta on Saturday.

I called to ask if I could tag along. I performed as the spotlight poet at Urban Grind’s “Do You Lyric Lounge?” I also got invited back next year on August 2015 to perform as the feature. I am slowly building up a calendar for 2015, based around the same time my book will be released!

On top of all this great news, Germany won the WORLD CUP. I celebrated by buying some new books. In the coming week, I’m going to start blogging more frequently so I can give more full thoughts on the events and happenings I’m experiencing. On July 22nd there will be the Holy City Slam in Charleston (hosted by myself and Matthew Foley) which I will blog about before it happens. Also, we are having a small poet’s party tomorrow evening at a local pool– The Poetry Potluck! The other big news is the Word Perfect show in Charleston on August 14th, which will take place at the Charleston Music Hall.

 

M.A.D. Studios Feature

Snapshot 7 (1-3-2014 5-53 PM)Met some great poets and reunited with old friends at last night’s show. We took a few photographs recently posted on the Facebook page. I personally left very satisfied with my performance, was glad to showcase a more mature performing style that’s evolved over the past year. Unfortunately, the camera had some glitches, but here’s the bit of video we did manage to retrieve, which shows two great performances of two poems that appear on “Perfect Nights.” And then there’s almost all of “Perfect Nights” as well.

Although I would have loved videos of other poems, this could not be. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to perform these again in the near future.

Enjoy!

 

Literary Adventures, Part 2: “The Staff Part-ay”

Where did the orange one come from? Or the yellow for that matter?

On Thursday night, I met the awesome staff of Verge. Amid eating venison chili and too many pillow mints, I found it interesting to place names and faces with stories, with styles. I always find it exhilarating to meet writers, though usually I meet fictional writers. Though I write both fiction and nonfiction, I think there are some differences between the type of people who write fiction and those who write journalistic stories. I imagine the mesh between the two would be Ernest Hemingway, though no one can be exactly like Hemingway, part-crazy, half-the-only-sane-one.

Fiction writers tend to be more subdued,  awkward with public speaking unless they are storytellers. As in, they memorize and tell stories for money. Mostly, writing is done alone. Though sometimes I’ll sit in a coffee shop to write, I am usually still alone. Or writing alone in my room. The only time we talk to others is when we publish something.

Journalists tend to be more social, I feel, perhaps because we go out to interview people in order to write our stories. We get used to speaking to others, holding an engaging conversation. If we weren’t able to elicit conversation from almost anyone, we’d be terrible at interviews.

These are just some of my thoughts. I had a really great time at my editor’s flat which was downtown. Before, I did not even realize that some people lived downtown. Now I know quite a lot about downtown Augusta. As of last year, I hardly ever went there, but now I go at least once a week and learn more each time.

Even past my demanding you to, if you have not check out the Verge, I will give you yet another wonderful opportunity to. Simply click here. You’re welcome.

 

Literary Adventures, Part 1: “The Release Party and the Drunk Artiste”

Wednesday and Thursday night were spent surrounded by artist types. Some of them were artists– of all kinds, including writers, poets, and painters. Others were artistes who do not per se create art, but appreciate art at a level to fit in with the artist community. The sort of pretentious people who are extremely interesting and irritating.

On Wednesday, I ventured out to Broad Street to a local bookstore which was small but cool. Called Book Tavern. There the Verge held the Inkling release party. Stacks of the magazines sat at the front for the attendees to peruse. If you haven’t read it yet, particularly my story, go get it immediately or read it here online.

The first few minutes I spent shaking the hands of those I did not particularly recognize.

Hi, I’m a writer. My name is…..

After meeting and greeting, I talked to an artist and poet I’ve known for some months. Although I’d seen her perform several times, rarely had I talked with her. Good times were had, discussing literature and the creative process. She even introduced me to her friend, who flirted with me intensely. After about fifteen minutes, I accidentally let slip I was a senior in high school, the awkwardness of which was magnified by the fact that she taught English at a high school.

That night, I briefly spoke with my editor whom I had never before met. She seemed younger than I anticipated but just as nice as she seemed in her e-mails. Maybe that was her character: grandmother kindliness but young spunky-ness. When we wrapped up that event, some of us floated over to Sit-a-Spell where we were having an open mic. More importantly, we celebrated Catherine the Great’s birthday. No, not the Russian one. The poetess from Augusta.

After we performed and clapped and snapped, we ate cake. It was fun and enlightening to meet new people.

Now, about those artistes I mentioned. You can spot them from a mile off. They like to wear loud earrings and nose rings and sport tribal tattoos. This evening, I recognized one such man. I had met him before months ago at my first open mic. He sits fresh in my memory because he sat on the floor trying to drum the guitar but failing. Perhaps the first time I met him, he was beyond stoned.

The second time I encountered this greased-ponytail-wearing fellow, he was instead rip-roaring drunk. Not even drunk in the especially funny way or even in a mean way, but instead that “oh dear, he is very drunk” drunk. Which I think is the worst, since he spot it only as a drunk out of context. At a party where every person is drinking, every person is this drunk. Everyone, however, is too drunk to notice. The awkwardly-drunk drunk appears in inappropriate situations: super markets, elementary schools, and open mics.

As he stumbled out the door halfway through someone’s performance, knocking over an expensive guitar and fist-bumping everyone he saw in the process, I realized why it is important to distinguish between artists and artistes.

Artists work on their craft and exercise some talent over what they do. Artistes wonder around with a ukuleles tucked under their arms, get drunk off free wine at magazine release parties, and videotape poets on his cell phone, bent on the floor for a better angle.

You see this a lot in the artist community, though. People who smugly LOVE art. They’re the same people who will scold you for not listening to the Devilish Egg’s new album the day it comes out. “What? You’ve never heard of them? Well, I expect not. Not very well-known, but basically, the best band in the world. They’ve been out for- what- five years? Still, can’t believe you’ve never heard of them.”

“Sorry. I haven’t.”

“Well, you should. I’m in the band.”

He and his Uke may make up the elusive band which plays what they describe “hard rock with rap influence and a twang of new-age Banjo.”

Besides encountering the drunk artiste, I had a perfectly lovely time. Later today or tomorrow depending on my levels of laziness, I will tell you all the fine adventures had the Verge New Year’s party.

What I learned last Wednesday, though:

Don’t serve free wine anywhere. You will attract alcoholics. And artists

 

Short Story: “Bait For the Dammed”

As many of you know, I write for the Verge. Recently, the magazine published its annual fiction addition in which I had the good fortune of being published. I went to the release party and our New Years gathering the following day. Boy, do I have some stories to tell. But my fingers are weak and my mind numb from school. Perhaps in the strength of the morning, I will recount those tales to you so you can share in my strange but wonderful literary adventures.

Until then, read the short piece of fiction I have published.

“A journalist from the North learns there may be more behind a boring story about a dam when his truck breaks down in the South Carolina backwoods.”

 

Read the story via the online magazine here: http://vergelive.com/

Of course there are other great works in there as well, so read them all. If you don’t live in the CSRA, you can always read it online!

If You Give a Writer a Pen

If you give a writer a pen, he’ll want to write a story. Once he writes that story, he will trash the paper and fume about how terrible it is. If you allow him to criticize his work, he will begin to critique it. Once he begins to critique it, he’ll write up another draft. If you let a writer finish a story, he’ll want to publish it. Then he’ll move into your guest bedroom and never leave.

In November, I wrote my first story for the Verge about Nanowrimo. I interviewed over twenty local writers about what drove them to write novels. Writers are a morphing bunch of people. Some write epic fantasies, obsessed with trolls and wizards. Others plotted high-end thrillers involving politicians and nuclear war. Some wrote of the nuances of private family lives. Yet every writer is driven by a need to tell a story.

We approach dialogue differently, think of characters differently, and certainly tell eclectic stories. Writers, though, are bound by the necessity to tell stories. That fiery X-factor that impels us to write down what we’re thinking. We need to leave our marks on the world in forms of poems or stories.

When I begin to write a story, I do not immediately leap to what “theme” I might want to pursue. Instead, I concentrate on a single character and place him in a strange situation. I want the reader to be able to sympathize with the character by the end, to feel the journey the character takes. The character’s story takes center stage. What we can glean from the story and how it affects society, yes, is important. But there are many essential components to a good story. One of them is a story.

I began thinking about this for two reasons. Firstly, I strive to understand the stories of those I surround myself with. Intentionally, I will strike up conversations with strangers. Whether they be doctors, bums, or Cuban restaurant owners. If I talk to them about their days or about their months or about their lives, I can have a story. There will be an opportunity for me to sympathize. The only thing that sets writers apart is that we sometimes fictionalize stories in search of a greater truth. That, however, is a discussion for another

day. Deep down, we all have these stories to tell. Real or fictional.

Writers have been scribbling through my mind also because tonight I will be mingling with many of them. I am being published in the 2012 issue of the Inkling, published by the Verge editors. Tonight (in fact, in two hours) is a release party for the magazine at which all the writers will congregate. Tomorrow is the Verge’s New Year’s meeting/party at which I shall meet my fellow staff writers and editors. Two nights will be spent dancing in social circles and discussing literature. What is most frightening is that I am still unsure what I am publishing in Inkling, poem or story. I submitted five entries, so I shall find out tonight what made it in.

Come Friday, I will update everyone about what occurred at each of these literary gatherings. I relish the opportunity to speak to fellow writers, to discover and read their work, and to find that within them is a familiar fire hungry for stories.

Reading the By-line

The librarian here in Aiken lowered her glasses and pursed her lips (in typical draconian/librarian style) as I jigged through the lobby, hopping on one foot, leaping into the air to complete graceful ballet turns, and waltzing all by myself. I waved a magazine like a banner as I pranced outside. Why? Because my first feature article was published on December 1st. If you don’t live in the CSRA area, you can check it out here. Page 19, not that I memorized that or anything.

I will know be able to boast as a professional poet (since I’ve had poetry published) and a working journalist. Now, just to get that novel published. Speaking of which, I sent loads of query letters lately. Spoken to many, many agencies. Statistically, I’m sure that if I have sent my novel to over 200 people, one will be bound to like it. Just one is all I need.

The feature story I published for Verge concerned NaNoWriMo. I felt a certain elated pride in seeing my name on the byline. It gave me a peculiar feeling; there is an other-worldliness with having your work out there. While I know people read this blog, I don’t feel that it’s quite a same. Though I’m extremely obsessive about checking view counts, I think of  a feature article in a different way.

You see, there’s not me there. In a blog, I inject myself into each post so that it froths over with my personality. Like when you put Mentos in a diet coke bottle.

But a magazine type story, that breeds a different readability. You are being read by many, many people, most of whom you’ve never met. Not many of them will give you feedback on what they thought. There is no comment section for a newspaper. Not really. So instead you’re consumed by the anonymous masses. Unless it’s a column, it’s not you, either. You can’t convince people to like you based on personality. The writer needs to be able to write. Except for that byline, a newspaper article can’t really represent you. The reader can’t see the writer behind the work, as much as they can when they read a poem or memoir.

The best way to relay this is to give the explaining away to a higher authority. By that, I mean, Chuck Palahniuk. This is a story he tells in his essay (13 tips): http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/stocking-stuffers-13-writing-tips-from-chuck-palahniuk

Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs.  Snowmen.  Snowflakes.  Bells.  Santa Claus.  He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint.  Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows.  Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind.

The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans.  Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup.

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad.  This customer said the man was probably a failed artist.  It was probably whiskey in the cup.  He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows.  Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors.  All the white “snow,” first.  Then some fields of red and green.  Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.

A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat.  I wish I could do that…”

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting.  Adding details and layers of color.  And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there.  The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left.  Whether he was a failure or a hero.  He’d disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

I hope you can glean some perspective from that story. Blogs give us unrealistic expectation of reader feedback. One day, I’ll just open a newspaper to read a review and there would be any option to “accept” or “deny.” It shall just be.

When you’re writing a story for a magazine or newspaper, you have only that by-line to represent you. That’s you in three words:

By Derek Berry

Poems That Are “Whoa!”

Here are some of my favorite poems, spoken word. Listen to them and enjoy some of my greatest influences:

“Stop Signs” by Shane Kocyzan

“Compliment” by Rives

“V for Virgin” by George Watsky

“What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali

“Bluegrass” by Rives

“When She Doesn’t Sleep at Night, She Turns Manic” by my good poet friend, Catherine the Great. Check her out!

Remember to check out other spoken word poems as well!