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Minor Heresies – New Chapbook

March 16, 2020

However much it might feel like I’m not doing anything and am being very unproductive, it is apparently not true (writers, take heart!).

Without quite intending to, I accumulated enough poems to put together a chapbook that a kind soul named Mick Kennedy agreed to publish from The Heartland Review Press.

New Chapbook of Poetry by Nina Murray

THR Press publications are generously funded by Elizabethtown Community and Technical College (ECTC), subscriptions to The Heartland Review, and  contest or general donations. As a non-profit, THR Press uses its proceeds to support contests and publications and fund scholarships, travel and conference fees for ECTC’s creative writing students. THR also brings readers to ECTC’s campus to give their students a better understanding of the writerly world and enhance their college experience.

I met Mick–and some of his lovely students—at the Heartland book festival they organized at ECTC. It was a lovely experience and clearly highly valued by the local community, so I am very happy that proceeds from my book can help the festival continue.

Here’s a poem from this book:

Cicadas respond to Billy Collins

The word cicada, for example stops me in my tracks. I just can’t go on.

Billy Collins, in the introduction to Best American Poetry, 2006

but, Billy, that’s what we are, don’t you see:

minds in thrall to the want of poetry

that you said could be found

in the daily scour

of casual communing

well-worn consolations


the indifferent blessings of sun and the rain

but with all our acts as preordained

as you remembering car keys

the coffee that starts your day

what else could we make but

this—our obedient

martial sawing

Teaching Writing in the Age of (New) Distance – Part II

March 27, 2020

This continues my conversation with Jill Morstad, PhD. Read the first part here

NM: An industry that is being similarly challenged because human contact is just as essential there is the performing arts. While the old model of arts as a mere spectacle may still generate some revenue, I am concerned with the teaching–workshops, master-classes, and jam sessions–on which most artists rely to make a living. As an educator, can you help me think through some general guidelines and good practices artists can use to keep engaging with their audiences?

JM: There is a moment in Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about changing educational paradigms where he says something about the arts, and he defines an aesthetic experience as one where your senses are operating at their peak, when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive. He’s right, I think, and I am reminded of his observation every time I see a student engaging with their phone during class. What should that tell us? Perhaps that there’s something yet plunderable about how we’ve learned to engage with the digital formats, the platforms and the servers that deliver it all up to us?

Moving from spectator to participant? For me, that’s about understanding range of genre (writing and other forms), our typical ways of engaging rhetorically with recurring situations. Thinking of it that way, then, means that not only can non-literary texts (e.g., experimental articles, business memorandum, grant proposals) be understood as types, but so can any sort of formulaic communicative action (e.g., business meetings, job interviews). The regularities in form and content, and there are regularities, are now seen as deriving from a shared intention for social action.

Jill Morstad dog trainer teacher

It’s the sharing part that’s so important, don’t you think?

This allows we ‘sharers’ to establish an understanding of what we’re doing together, and why and from there (in doing so) begin to develop our strategies for learning to learn how to participate, and design specific events as aesthetic experiences. In other words, the instructor starts the conversation but where it really begins is in the students’ (or audience) response.

NM: Last question: if you ruled the world, what learning outcomes would you ensure we take from the current situation?

Ah. As in assessment? Like, how are we doing so far?  To me, assessment is research; doing assessment is doing research since in my approach they follow a similar process. Like when researchers develop research aims, interests, and questions. Similarly, my first step in assessment is writing a syllabus: developing teaching/learning aims, interests, and questions.

When researchers can select from a range of possible methodologies (qualitative and quantitative) those become what will enable us to attend or help us to “see.” So to extend my analogy, assessment involves devising systematic ways of looking at something, and (and this is very important) recording what we see.

Sensemaking is the discovery of meaning and it is the interpretive phase of research and/or assessment. It’s where we begin to align warrant with evidence. But there’s another thing yet to be done: the representation phase. This requires expressing whatever sense is made, whatever meaning is discovered, in ways that illuminate experience quite literally in its absence. Important to remember because in both research and assessment, representation can and often does become the enduring reality.

That’s the takeaway because on the internet, everything is forever.


That’s the takeaway because on the internet, everything is forever.

Teaching Writing in the Age of (New) Distance — Part I

March 26, 2020

Belgian Tervuren, dog training, rhetoric Using our time for reflection, I took the opportunity to reach out to my good friend Dr. Jill Morstad. Jill Morstad, PhD, teaches writing, and professional communications and trains dogs the rest of the time. We discuss teaching, learning, pedagogy, and “keeping the human in the humanities.”

NM: I am thrilled to have this occasion to talk to you about the challenges of teaching in the age of social distancing :)  In fact, why don’t we start with the language itself: we call it “distance learning,” thereby apparently locating the agency with the student. What, in your experience, have been the implications of this label?

JM: In my experience, the teaching of writing is inevitably animated by a perpetual struggle with ‘distance.’  e.g., dominant curricular models for writing instruction that happen in English departments, especially if they are understood to be primarily “service-oriented,” are distanced from what they purport to be teaching in some perplexing ways. Having delivered beginning writing instruction in a first-year composition program in English departments, or a course in speaking (or presentation) in Communication Studies, these  departments dispatch students to business, science, or technology programs with the “writing” box checked.

Yet, when such a model is not integrated within specific disciplinary courses and/or cross-disciplinary studies, the English and Communications departments will fail to connect “best practice” with the disciplinary context for that practice.  If there is no curricular-wide model for realizing best practice, they may fail to provide students with adequate scaffolding for “learning to learn how” across a range of research, writing and/or communicative tasks. And if we have no overall outcomes assessment (other than grades), we fail to create for ourselves any opportunities to adjust practice in relation to content and context.

Peering across the quad, or across the technical divide, I am always looking for ways to move students’ experiences closer to those specific kinds of learning and practice, especially if the student themselves expresses a sense of distance or detachment: the student who has ‘never been good at English,’ or continually asks me, ‘what do you want?’; who struggles to make such meanings as they can and then live with the social consequences of those meanings. Read more…

Free Online Courses from the International Writing Program

March 25, 2020

15 Free Writing Course Packs with Hundreds of Instructional Online Videos

IWP’s collection of entirely free online course content covers topics as specific as “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster” (which actually focuses on peace and reconciliation!) and broader topics like “How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women.” Also included: a flash-writing course for teens, a course in Spanish, and a course in Arabic. All are available at:
And because I wouldn’t recommend something I haven’t tried, I’ve joined“How Writers Write Poetry II” — and so far, it’s great! (Bonus: Now I know what Richard Haas looks like!)
book shelf

Social Distancing, Discipline, and Writing

March 23, 2020
clear glass jar filled of coloring pens beside of white sketch pad

Photo by Jessica Lewis on

No matter how introverted our tribe, it’s one thing to pine for some quiet time at home with books, and quite another to be ordered to stay put. Disclaimers: I’m teleworking in my day job; I am married to another writer who is also teleworking; there is a dog in the house, and there are no children.  I fully realize my observations may be of limited use to some. Read more…

Review of Dmitri Prigov’s Soviet Texts, translated by Simon Schuchat with Ainsley Morse

March 21, 2020

My friendly local translators’ group’s list-serve—DC-ALT—delivered this good news recently:

Congratulations to Simon Schuchat on the publication of his translation with Ainsley Morse of Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov’s piece “Verdicts” in the February 3 issue of the New Yorker. The story was selected from Soviet Texts, now available from Ugly Duckling Presse.

Dmitri Prigov Soviet TextsSimon Schuchat is claimed by his bio as “part of the St. Mark’s downtown writing scene” in NYC, but he is also a retired State Department hand, with service in Moscow in his record, so it is no wonder that our Beltway crowd claims him as one of our own.

Soviet Texts is a massive work—at nearly three hundred pages, including a translator’s note and a detailed commentary, signals the ambition to deliver a definitive Prigov volume to the anglophone reader.

And so it does.

Read more…

Artistic temperament 101: Everything I need to know about writing I learned from a miniature horse

March 18, 2020

It’s true. I had this epiphany while bringing up yet another miniature horse, vse, very small equineexample from driving Bullet in a conversation with my husband, Sean Murray.

This was during the time Sean was working on his second novel, which means that there were only two kinds of days—good days, when his writing is working, and bad days, when it is, well, not—and to help get through the latter, I found myself reaching for equine parallels. Read on, among other things, why there are more kinds of days now that Sean is working on his fourth novel.

To start, here are some Bullet-points:

  • When your work is easy, you are not trying hard enough. Anyone who has seen a mini just trotting along—or a writer just scribbling casually in a coffee-house—know: they are not doing their best work. Blue ribbons require effort, discipline, and hard work focusing on the task at hand.  Disclaimer: you can’t just tell by looking at the mini if it’s going to trot eight miles that day. But you can tell by looking at the writer. Read more…
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