August 4, 2017
That is the work of poets. We get down in the dark and do the work that it takes to light it up.
—Ada Limón, from the first collective Field Office reading,
Seattle, WA, February 2015
Dear Friends, Family, Community—
It’s been four years since I climbed through a window of the literary world to announce the founding of The Field Office. This place, this traveling office of Poets has changed and shaped lives in ways I never could have predicted.
Still today, even on the busiest days, a note from a Poet or a Reader will put me in that right state of wonder. I feel that we are all connected through this work of words. Patience, generosity, and gratitude—these were the foundational lessons given me to me from Nikky Finney, and they continue to guide us as we grow. This Office works to ensure that Poetry reaches those who want and need it. And as the years go by, I feel we need it. We all need Poetry, more and more.
Since I last addressed our community in one of these letters, we joined over 300 of you in the True Reformer Building in Washington, D.C., delivering a collective reading at the 2017 AWP Conference. I’m happy to let you know that videos of each Poet's Fierce Love reading are now available here for you to enjoy. This fall, we'll be editing and printing our first chapbook. This work is a thank-you to our community.
Today we also announce three new members of The Field Office family:
As we move forward, my hope is found in the vision that, together, we hold tight to what matters. I want to encourage Poets and Readers alike to be the best teachers and neighbors they can be. We can speak truth to power, challenge industry standards, value each word, each mark of punctuation. Together, we can keep writing and reading toward a brighter, more loving future, supporting one another along the way.
Thank you for spending time with our new site and with the Field Poets. We hope to see you soon in your neighborhood and ours.
Be good to one another—
May 12, 2015
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
Friends, Readers, Poets, Community—
An entire year has passed (an entire year!) since I last wrote to you as a collective, a family, a whole. I am still staggered by the kinship we've found in the Poetry community, by the literary public's wide-open arms. I hold close all of the voices, thoughts, and wonders that move across my desk. I know I will for years to come. In February, I left my full-time day job as a web architect at the University of Kentucky to direct this Office full-time. Each day that comes now comes to me with Poetry. The Field Poets are getting where we need to be in order to be with you, and we are keeping the true work front and center in our lives. I am so honored our Office is now an around-the-clock switchboard for Poetry.
When I think about what it is we’re doing here, I always take a step back. Are we making conversations that are transformative? Are we serving you–our Readers–best? What I know for sure is this: the Poets of the Field Office are doing essential work, the work that is essential to literary history. We are conducting critical conversations in schools, on street corners, and behind the podium. Between recitations we are in cars, on planes, and moving through cities across this globe with hands reached out. We are standing in front of classrooms, motioning—“Come here. Stay awhile. Tell me about your grandmother’s gladiolas—tell me what’s good.” We are listening intently. To you.
Since I last wrote to you, two new Poets have joined us, and I encourage you to spend some time learning more about them:
These days we are also reviewing your postcard entries, and a winner will be announced in the coming weeks. I'm excited to announce that the Southern Indiana Review will soon release a special "Field Office" edition, which will include new work from several Field Poets. We hope you'll join our conversation there. I'm grateful that you've had time to get to the end of this note. Thank you for spending these few quiet moments with us. Know we're here with you and for you, too.
This Office is my poem. This work is my song.
May 26, 2014
The Field Office, a home house, a glorious barn, a sacred dwelling, an un-sanctimonious poet sanctuary, full with some of the most generous and heart-rendering poets of our day."
…and indeed it is. This life, these poets, this hand-work – these days, I wake full of gratitude.
As I start this letter I realize it’s been so long since I wrote to you, and I must begin by telling you our first visit to AWP was great fun. Our Field Office Reading included Ross, Curtis, Marcus, and Ada, all of whom were beautiful and funny and brazen and inspiring. We stood together, a family, in all our mischief and hope. I have received many notes from you – our dear friends – letting us know what the reading meant to you that weekend and since. Thank you for encouraging us to come back, to keep on keeping-on in our work. We’re working on editing the reading’s recording; we hope to have to ready for you this summer.
Also AWP was the occasion that inspired us to launch The Postcard Prize, and I want to stop here and thank all of you who participated. We reveled in your images, your ideas; emailed each other with lines and phrases, saying “did you read this one?!” A few weeks ago, we announced the winners, and I am happy the digital exhibit continues on well past the prize itself. Thank you for joining our community.
In more recent news, Nikky Finney visited my home in Kentucky a few weeks ago. It was the first time she visited me there; she walked around, looking; she touched the walls; studied my photographs; advised what might grow well in the back garden. We sat down together at my kitchen table to assemble the project now known as the Sweet Box of Words. She signed each copy of her new hardcover books; we placed National Book Award seals on the title pages of Head Off and Split – we took some to consider what we were there to do. We held handmade boxes built by Alex Brooks in Lexington, Kentucky, and, in the walls of each of these boxes, we gently placed her hardback collections. I am honored that The Field Office is the contact of sale for this limited edition collection. The boxes sit on my studio shelves, sharing spaces with my screen-printing equipment, my grandfather’s negatives, my old cyanotype prints. If you order the Sweet Box of Words, I will walk upstairs, pull a set from these shelves for you. I will wrap it in butcher’s paper and write to you about the garden or the poem I read that day, or our thunderstorm. I hope you will write back. Follow this link to Nikky’s website if you want to learn more about this project.
And, finally, I’m thrilled to tell you this spring brought three new poets into The Field Office family!
Ansel Elkins, a great new Southern poet, is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Yale Younger Series in Poets. Her debut—Blue Yodel —will be released in April 2015. Want to check out her poems a bit early? Consider visiting our May edition of Second Takes, to read Ansel’s poem “Ghost At My Door.”
Adrian Matejka, whose most recent book, The Big Smoke, was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. The Big Smoke was also a finalist for both the 2014 National Book Award and for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
Steve Scafidi, Poet and cabinetmaker, has two new books out this year! The Cabinetmaker’s Window & To the Bramble and the Briar. In the same month I founded our office, Rebecca gifted his Q Avenue Press chapbook, Songs for the Carry On, to me. Only later would I realize this book was handsewn by our own Ross!
The Field Poets will be working hard this summer and into the fall – stay close to find out more about where and when you may find them.
Yours from a house of open windows—
January 25, 2014
Because it was believed that their comings and goings both underground and above ground would put them in touch with the secrets of both worlds, ants were often used in divination, and omens were taken from their movements.”
—Women’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects
The months following our launch have been full. I have been walking in awe of all you who've reached out to us. This work with Poets, artists, shapers of thought—we are redefining what it means to be an Office, reimagining what it means to be a literary community. Underground and above ground, we work. We hear your voices, your ideas; we listen and hope alongside you.
We're thrilled to have signed two new Field Office Poets—Ada Limón & Marcus Wicker—both of whom have particular spirit for words and sharing.
And we're moved to know how many of you would welcome The Field Office into your own good work as Poets. While our representation service must continue developing slowly if we hope to maintain our core, we are always imagining ways to expand our mission. Think of The Field Office when you think of Community. Ants carry 100x's their weight, but only together do they build their world. Below you'll find new ways to join us.
Today we are announcing The Postcard Prize – our first collaboration between all of the Field Office Poets. Nikky Finney is donating the first (well, second) box set of her collections as the top prize. And the rest of us are dreaming, sorting, judging, donating. Please join us by entering, add your 140 character voice to a chorus that celebrates slow communication. Put a stamp on it, join our mailing list, receive special ephemera in the future.
That's our table at the AWP book fair, Seattle. We'll have Field Office Poet collections, ready for signings; letter-pressed journals, ready for your words (hand-printed by Field Office Poets Curtis Bauer & Rebecca Gayle Howell!); and, of course, postcards for the prize. And an offsite FIELD OFFICE READING at Still Liquor. Look for The Field Office Guide to AWP which will detail all our events, in the next few days.
Second Takes—a poem of the month that highlights the work of our Poets. Newswire – telegraphs of Field Office goodness. Events—where in the world we are. Receive monthly correspondence in your inbox and mailbox. Let's keep in touch.
The Out Field
How to create digital spaces for contemplative work? We're dedicated to finding meaningful answers to this question. If you like the sites I have created for the Field Office Poets, or if you would like to see what I have done for others, be in touch.
In 2014, together, let's articulate community.
All good things from this Kentucky place,
August 5, 2013
We begin with history."
—Nikky Finney, 2011 National Book Award Acceptance Speech
In the summer of 2010, Poet Nikky Finney and I began working on a website design for her book Head Off & Split. At the end of 2011, Nikky won the National Book Award for Poetry. Besieged with invitations, the Poet asked me to become her speaking representative. I worked a full-time job as a web architect at the University of Kentucky; I was the Associate Director of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference; I freelanced for personal web clients; I was the mother of a strong-willed daughter. Still, I said yes to Nikky Finney.
Today I celebrate this yes. I celebrate these last 900 days, this gentle human being, Nikky Finney, and the sanctuary I have found in amplifying poetry.
Good Poets permit Readers to access our forgotten places. I have come to believe the conversation between a Poet and a Reader—be it on the page, in the workshop, or reading hall—returns us to our true selves. It is a literary moment, yes—but also much more. For the past several months, I have been building a new literary speaking agency for Poets: The Field Office. Today, I introduce our work to you.
I am climbing through the window of the literary world with 900 days of lessons in my hand, lessons on tenderness, poise, and connection. I am using these lessons to promote the work of poetry and to establish unforgettable interactions between Poets and Readers. Please join me in welcoming our founding Poets:
Welcome to our new web space. Come in, have a look around, introduce yourself to us and to our work. Be in touch if you’re interested in working by our sides; we’d love to listen to your ideas and share some of our own.
Vaughan Ashlie Fielder
Founder, The Field Office