Chris Tusa

APW Poet Blog

October, 2002

Chris Tusa

Chris Tusa was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He holds a B.A and an M.A from Southeastern Louisiana University and an M.F.A. from the University of Florida. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Passages North, Spoon River, The Louisville Review, Tar River Poetry, The New York Quarterly, The Southeast Review, and others. His first chapbook of poetry, Inventing an End, was recently published by Lone Willow Press.

He has acted as Editorial Assistant for Louisiana Literature, a nationally recognized literary journal published by the Department of English at Southeastern Louisiana University and as fiction editor for Gambit. He is employed as an Artist in the Schools for the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and will act as director of The Paula G. Manship Poetry Workshop next summer. He teaches in the English Department at Louisiana State University.

Some of his favorite poets include Margaret Atwood, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sylvia Plath, David Bottoms, Rodney Jones, Dorianne Laux, Mary Oliver, and James Dickey.

Here are samples of Chris Tusa’s poems.

Photo of Chris Tusa

Please contact Chris Tusa with your thoughts.

October 1st, 2002

I would like to begin by thanking Scott for this opportunity.
I am truly honored to contribute to this web site.

Perhaps the best way to begin is by sharing a little about
myself. Well . . . here goes. I was born on January 1, 1972 in
New Orleans, Louisiana, where I spent my childhood. I attended
a Catholic grammar school and high school (the public school
system in Louisiana is atrocious). During high school, I enjoyed poetry and literature, but I never had the desire (or perhaps
the confidence) to write poems or stories. After graduating
from high school, I decided to attend Southeastern Louisiana University, where I intended to major in Advertising. Shortly
after beginning my undergraduate studies, however, I decided
to investigate English as a specialty.

In the Fall of 1991, I enrolled in my first creative writing
course: Beginning Fiction Writing. As you might expect, my
stories were unusually bad, but fortunately I was genuinely
excited to work with such a fabulous writer (the course was
taught by Tim Gautreaux, a fairly famous fiction writer, at
least in this part of the country). While Gautreaux’s
criticism of my work was less than encouraging, I decided to
keep myself open to his criticism so that I might learn all
I could from him. Eventually I improved, so I decided to take
his poetry class the following term. I enjoyed the poetry
class much more, mostly because I was better at it. He
encouraged me a great deal, and to this day I am indebted
to him for motivating me as a writer.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I decided to pursue
a Master’s degree in creative writing in hopes of making myself
a more marketable as a professional and in hopes of becoming a better writer. During this time, I enrolled in numerous creative writing classes, all of which culminated in a creative thesis. After completing my thesis, I decided to pursue an M.F.A. in
poetry at the University of Florida. While at UF, I learned a
great deal about poetry, and while I do realize that M.F.A.
programs are often criticized, I can personally say (with a
great degree of confidence in fact) that the experience truly changed the way in which I viewed poetry.

I completed my M.F.A. in May of 2000, and shortly after
graduation I secured a teaching position at Louisiana State University, where I have taught writing for the last two
years. I enjoy teaching, and I can’t imagine doing anything

As far as future plans, I would like to continue teaching,
writing, and publishing. Last April I completed a chapbook
of poetry, which was later published by Lone Willow Press, but
my ultimate goal is to publish a full-length collection of poems with a major university press. Unfortunately, in the last few
months I have come to realize (to my dismay) that there are literally thousands of other poets (many of whom are more
skilled and more accomplished) who share my dream.

Chris Tusa
USA – Mon Sep 30 21:15:27 2002

October 2nd, 2002

For the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my poetry has changed over the years, and I recently thought back to an article that really influenced my work. The article was beneficial to me in many ways, and for this reason, I thought I’d share it with some of you.

Of course, many poets and teachers have influenced my work, but I don’t think any particular philosophy or article has impacted my poetry more than the thoughts and opinions expressed in Robert Bly’s Introduction to The Best American Poetry of 1999. In the article, Bly discusses the slow gradual disappearance of what he classifies as “the heat of poetry”—that is, poetry that contains both an obvious emotional intensity as well extremely concise, compact language. Specifically, he asserts that when the “irreplaceable flavor of a given decade disappears, our language loses its vigor and becomes merely useful.” In other words, “when language cools, it becomes a corpse.” He goes on to state that he experiences the greatest heat in a poem at those moments when a poet is “able, by his or her awareness of complicated mental perceptions, to bypass those perceptions and bring the object just seen so near the soul that the soul itself feels a shock, as if it just touched snow or hot water.” He advocates poetry that contains what he refers to as “tiny explosions,” that is, poems that hide meaning rather than weakening that meaning with explanation. He also urges younger poets to attempt this form of writing, encouraging them (or us for that matter) to create explosive poems where a single line absorbs the energy that might typically have been created in an entire stanza.

After reading this article, I quickly became (almost immediately in fact) increasingly aware of the lack of economy in my own writing, both in my poetry and in the professional writing that I do on a daily basis). And, as a consequence of reading the article, my priorities concerning writing have dramatically changed. Check it out if have a chance!

Chris Tusa
USA – Tue Oct 1 19:46:50 2002

October 3rd, 2002

Today, I read a poem by Ruth Stone entitled “A Moment.” I have included the poem below:

A Moment

Across the highway a heron stands
in the flooded field. It stands
as if lost in thought, on one leg, careless,
as if the field belongs to herons. The air is clear and quiet.
Snow melts on this second fair day.
Mother and daughter,
we sit in the parking lot
with doughnuts and coffee.
We are silent.
For a moment the wall between us
opens to the universe;
then closes.
And you go on saying
you do not want to repeat my life.

from Paterson Literary Review

This poem is brilliant, at least in my opinion, because of its economic use of language. No words are wasted. The poet never feels the need to over-communicate the emotions of the poem with needless commentary. Instead, she simply describes the scene, ending with a single comment that, at least from my perspective, conveys a universe of meaning and emotion. Almost daily, I am surprised by the utter impact a simple phrase (or in this case a simple sentence) can have on a reader.

Chris Tusa
USA – Wed Oct 2 09:04:56 2002

October 4th, 2002

Wow! I read a wonderful poem by Chana Bloch today entitled “Tired Sex.” It amazes me that so may emotions and ideas can be conveyed in such a small amount of space. I love this poem for its density and because it reminds me of the complexity that simple comparisons can bring to a poem. I have included the poem below:

Tired Sex

Trying to strike a match in a matchbook
that has lain all winter under the woodpile:
damp sulphur
on sodden cardboard.
I catch myself yawning. Through the window
I watch the sparrow the cat
keeps batting around.

Like turning the pages of a book the teacher assigned—

You ought to read it, she said.
It’s great literature.

from The Atlantic Monthly

Chris Tusa
USA – Wed Oct 2 09:06:01 2002

October 5th, 2002

Well . . . I just returned home (my wife and I went to north Mississippi for a few days to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Lili). During the drive up, I had a lot of time to think about my work, and I realized that I am not (and have not been for some time) satisfied with the poems I’ve produced in the last few months. So, I made a decision. I am going to make a few changes. Specifically, I am going to change not only the way in which I approach the writing process but the topics I choose as well. Typically, I begin with an image and go from there, often writing poems that in some way deal with human relationships (particularly problematic ones). My new plan is to take a more objective approach, that is, to begin with an object and develop the poem from there, in hopes of producing a poem that celebrates not a human relationship but an object, or more specifically, the relationship between an object and the surrounding world (similar to what Stevens does in his early work, or Neruda in his elemental odes). I’m excited about the new endeavor, but it’s certainly going to take some discipline . . . that’s for sure. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Chris Tusa
USA – Fri Oct 4 19:55:57 2002

October 7th, 2002

I’m wondering about book-length manuscripts, more specifically how a collection of poems should read. For years, I simply wrote poems, hoping that at some point I would publish them (individually, that is). In fact, I never even considered publishing the poems together until someone suggested I submit a manuscript to a chapbook publisher. I took their advice, without any luck, unfortunately. But I was persistent, so I submitted it again . . . and again . . . and again. And, eventually someone decided to publish them. At the time, I worried about it a bit, but I was lucky because this particular publisher (like many chapbook publishers) didn’t expect chapbooks to contain a theme or motif.

Now, because I am interested in publishing a full-length collection (mostly because it seems like the next logical step), I find myself struggling with this idea, wondering if I have a collection on my hands or simply a bunch of unrelated poems from varying stages of my writing career. Surely, I must not be alone. I’d imagine that many beginning poets (perhaps even the majority) find themselves in my situation since they (presumably) spent their time writing poems without ever imagining book publication as even a possibility. I just don’t know where to go from here. The manuscript as it stands contains thirty poems, all of which contain a similar mood. However, within the ms, there are many different modes (dramatic monologues, odes, long narratives, short lyrics, etc.). Also, some of the poems are very personal (first-person narratives, while others are more detached (written in the third person). I am wondering . . . should the manuscript simply be comprised of poems that contain a similar mood? Or should the ms contain poems that progress in some way (that is, poems that move the reader in some logical direction?

Chris Tusa
USA – Mon Oct 7 16:48:21 2002

October 9th

Had a root canal done today, so I’m experiencing quite a bit of pain. It makes you think about how much people must have suffered in earlier times . . . headaches and not an aspirin in sight, teeth rotting in their mouths. We have so many luxuries that we take for granted. While I sat the dentist’s chair today, the dental hygienist was telling the dentist about her cousin who decided to postpone her marriage because they couldn’t afford the ring she wanted. I wanted to tell her that her cousin’s fiancée needed to keep his money and find a less materialistic woman, but luckily (for her sake and for mine) my mouth was stuffed with gauze.

Chris Tusa
USA – Thu Oct 10 18:03:25 2002

October 10th

Well . . . I’m still in quite a bit of pain. And, as if this weren’t enough, last night I had a dream that all of my teeth fell out. I was lecturing to my Business Writing students when suddenly, one by one, my teeth began to fall out of my mouth. It was quite gruesome . . . pieces of my gums and bits of teeth falling into my hands while students stared at me in shock. Then, as if that’s not enough, I wake up to realize the pain in my mouth and, for a moment, I actually believe that my teeth have actually fallen out. What a cruel dream. I could have had this dream any other time, but the day after a root canal . . . give me a break!

Chris Tusa
USA – Thu Oct 10 18:13:25 2002

October 12, 2002

Been thinking about publication lately, specifically the mistakes I’ve made concerning where to send my work. I started thinking about this last night, and I realized that over the years the number of poems I’ve burned (a term my friend coined to describe poems that are published in journals with an unusually small readership . . .in other words, bad journals that contain bad poems) is quite staggering. Of course, I was warned about this when I first started publishing, but the desire to see myself in print often overshadowed everything else (namely patience and, at times, even common sense). Too often, my desire to publish my work caused me to send poems to magazines that I’d never even read, and in many cases, never even heard of. I never realized that once I published a poem, I could not publish that particular poem again (at least not individually). And, as a result, I’ve placed many of my strongest poems in journals that only a handful (and I mean that quite literally) of people have read. Oh well . . . live and learn I guess.

Chris Tusa
USA – Sun Oct 13 18:42:59 2002

October 13, 2002

Well. . . here’s the first product of my newly-found technique (poems about objects or symbols): Let me know what you think.


Like a trick
you crawled up Hitler’s sleeve,
a crooked cross with bent arms,
two cursed S’s twisted together
like a black strand of DNA.

You look like a mistake,
like two Y’s joined at the hip,
the mutant offspring of an L—
a sad, disfigured letter from some
genetically-engineered alphabet
gone terribly wrong.

I watch you wave from a flag
like a finish line
fluttering at the end of a race.

Chris Tusa
USA – Sun Oct 13 19:30:08 2002

October 14th 2002

Went back to the dentist today for a follow-up, so once again, I’m in a bit of pain. My dentist is quite a character, though, so it wasn’t that bad. He’s a former football player (played for LSU and was even offered a contract to play for the NFL). Apparently, in 1956, after finishing his degree at LSU, he was offered $30,000 for a two-year contract to play for the Dallas Cowboys. He laughed at the fact that he decided to go to Dentistry School instead, mostly because of the money. Imagine that . . . a world where being a dentist is more lucrative than playing in the NFL. My . . . has the world changed.

Chris Tusa
USA – Tue Oct 15 17:52:42 2002

October 15th 2002

Spent most of the day printing manuscripts to send to book contests. Have already spent over $100 on entry fees. Sure hope I win one soon, before the wife and I go bankrupt. This whole experience really reiterates what I always suspected—that whether or not a poem is good depends wholly on who is reading it. It’s quite frustrating actually, especially when an editor indicates that the best poem in the manuscript is the one you nearly removed from the manuscript. It’s so tempting to change what you’re doing based on what others say about your work. But I truly believe that it’s important for writers to trust their instincts. A poet friend of mine told me last week that writing poetry is like driving, and that if you constantly look in your rearview mirror to see what others are doing, you inevitably lose sight of your own individual direction. I think she’s right!!!!!!!

Chris Tusa
USA – Tue Oct 15 18:11:53 2002

October 16th 2002

Was surfing the net today and noticed a great online journal called Story South and was surprised to find such great poetry on a site I’d never heard of, especially since it was a web site. And that got me thinking about other successful online poetry sites which, in turn, reminded me of how far the web has come in the last few years (that is, when it comes to showcasing good poetry from fairly established poets). I remember when all you could find on the web was individual web pages containing poems that had apparently been uploaded by the poet himself/herself. But now, we have sites like Poetry Daily and The Academy of American Poets, and so on. In fact, it seems now that good poetry is easier to find on the web than in a bookstore (like some of you, I often browse the excepts of books at Amazon’s site before purchasing a collection, while other times I find interesting poems at sites like Poetry Daily and then decide to purchase the book based on the poems I’ve read). Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be in a bookstore. It simply doesn’t seem very practical any more. It makes me wonder if reference books like Poets Market or Writer’s Market have a future actually, since most journals now have web sites. I can’t remember the last time I consulted Poet’s Market before sending poems to a publisher.

Chris Tusa
USA – Thu Oct 17 20:21:00 2002

October 17th 2002

Getting back to publishing in relation to the web (a great topic considering the arena) . . . I wonder if poetry submission will eventually become a purely electronic process. It seems almost inevitable in light of the obvious advantages that the web can bring to the table (quicker response times, less paperwork, etc.). Over the years, I have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of established magazines that accept electronic submissions. Yet many magazines are sticking to their guns, adamantly stating on their web site that they “DO NOT ACCEPT ELECTRONIC SUBMISSIONS.” Personally, I favor submitting my work the traditional way. After all, isn’t a paper-baed form rejection impersonal enough.

Chris Tusa
USA – Thu Oct 17 20:33:40 2002

October 18th, 2002

Been thinking a lot lately about starting an online journal. Seems like a very interesting and inexpensive way to showcase emerging writers. I realize it may prove to be very time-consuming which may, in turn, result in less time to write, but I truly feel that the experience will be a rewarding one. A good idea might be to begin by requesting work from friends. Once the journal is somewhat established, I’m sure I’d be able to attract other writers (well . . . at least I hope). The wonderful thing is that there isn’t much to lose (exept time).

Chris Tusa
USA – Sat Oct 19 07:27:59 2002

October 20th, 2002

Read an article about Billy Collins today that discussed how marketing and self-promotion enabled him to achieve the usual amount of popularity he’s now experiencing. And, as a result of the article, I am beginning to realize that becoming an established and respected poet doesn’t simply require publications but advertising and networking as well. So, needless to say, I’ve been making phone calls and writing e-mails all day, trying to schedule a few local readings. It’s quite simple actually. I suspected that libraries and other literary organizations would be quick to put me off but, on the contrary, most have expressed an interest and have almost all have agreed to let me read.

Chris Tusa
USA – Mon Oct 21 18:37:52 2002

October 21st, 2002

Spent much of the day scheduling readings and requesting blurbs for the book. Think I’ll spend tomorrow searching the Internet for a few more local literary organizations who sponsor readings. A friend suggested I begin with local libraries, which may or may not prove to be a good idea. We’ll see. I’ve sent the manuscript to at least fifty people in the last two weeks (between contests, reviews, blurbs, readings, etc.), and it’s a bit of a pain, but it’s nice to know so many qualified people are reading the poems. I’ve always heard how important it is to simply have your poems read (whether by reading your own work or by sending it to others), but I don’t think I truly understood how crucial it was until recently. You can get so close to a manuscript that you almost become immune to its strengths as well as it flaws. Thankfully, though, the comments I’ve been getting have really helped.

Chris Tusa
USA – Mon Oct 21 18:52:44 2002

October 22nd, 2002

Searched the Internet today and found a few more local literary organizations that sponsor readings. I still need to check with a few libraries, though. I’ve only scheduled two or three and already I’m beginning to establish contacts that I know will prove helpful. The poetry scene here (Baton Rouge), is a lot smaller than I thought. I’m beginning to notice that the same group of people (twenty or thirty poets/teachers) are involved (at some level) in nearly all the literary events in the area. I need to get more involved, though, that is, if I ever hope to establish myself as one of the poets here. I thought it would be enough to work at a university, but I’m realizing (as I’ve said before) that much of this process involves much more than that, namely self-promotion and networking. Many of the poets here circulate fliers advertising their readings and their book on a monthly basis, while others establish workshops at local libraries. I spoke to a poet today, and she said she’s been promoting herself for nearly twenty years now (since she arrived in Baton Rouge), and only just recently did she begin to achieve national recognition. No doubt, it’s very involved, but the work seems to pay off. Guess only time will tell.

Chris Tusa
USA – Tue Oct 22 18:35:36 2002

October 24th, 2002

Booked a few more readings today and scoured the Net for a few more book contests. This book contest business is getting a bit expensive. I’ve already shelled out nearly $200 and still . . . nothing.I may begin looking into publishers who don’t offer contests. Simply send the manuscript to presses that will offer to publish it rather than looking for a pub agreement as well as an award. Still, it seems as if you need to win a contest to get any degree of recognition these days. Maybe I’ll do both and see what happens.

Chris Tusa
USA – Fri Oct 25 19:37:54 2002

October 25th, 2002

Printed a few more manuscripts today and sent them off. It’s unbelievable, really . . . the amount of paper I go through lately. A 60 page manuscript (which compared to most is quite short) printed thirty of forty times. That’s a lot of paper, let me tell you. Then, postage ($2.80 per manuscript). No to mention entry fees ($20 a contest on average). It really adds up fast. I’ve been looking into a supplemental grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, though (I received a $500 grant last month, but I suspect I may need another). Thank God for grants. I’m not sure I could stay in this business without them.

Chris Tusa
USA – Fri Oct 25 19:43:28 2002

October 27th, 2002

Very tired . . . spent most of the day (and night) updating my web site (adding new poems, changing layout). Again, trying to promote the work (this time via the Internet). I really think the design and layout of the page has a lot to do with how the poems read. I noticed this as I was updating the page and was amazed. I plan to add more color and more images. Anything to keep people at the site.

Chris Tusa
USA – Mon Oct 28 21:21:39 2002

October 30, 2002

Continued working on the website today. Trying to develop a layout that compliments the work. I’ve come to realize how important it is to showcase your work on the Web. I’m always amazed to find out how many people actually search the Web for a particular poet’s work. Many poets don’t even fathom constructing a personal webpage to showcase their work, and I think that’s a huge mistake. Like it or not, the Web makes the work more accessible, and, as a result, more people read your work. Sounds good to me!

Chris Tusa
USA – Wed Oct 30 19:55:52 2002

October 31, 2002

Thanks to Scott and to the Albany Poetry Workshop for allowing me to
act as Poet Log for the month of October.

Take care everyone,

Chris Tusa
USA – Fri Nov 1 09:06:17 2002

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