Photography Inspiring Poetry Inspiring Composition Inspiring Performance

I’m so glad to have a video of this performance to share!

Here’s the backstory: years ago, after seeing this photograph of graffiti on a wall near the ruins of the World Trade Center taken in the days after September 11, 2001, I wrote the following poem, which will appear in my new book, Other Possible Lives.

Annus Mirabilis

“See, I have written you 

on the palms of my hands”

—Isaiah 49:16

You are alive.

The words cling to the side of the wall,

a statement of desperate belief,

that she might come walking—

and who knew—

out of the rubble,

a year of miracle and wonders.

I will never forget you.

See, I have written you

on the walls of the city.

When I arrived at the University of Central Florida (UCF) this fall, I met the composer Alex Burtzos, who asked if I’d like to collaborate on a piece he’d be writing for the UCF Chamber Choir to perform during the annual UCF Celebrates the Arts event.

He picked this poem, composed a gorgeous, haunting, and innovative piece around it, and then passed it on to David Brunner, whose chamber choir performed this last month at the beautiful Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts. 

My husband and I in the front row of this gorgeous performance space, just before the premiere.

Photography inspiring poetry inspiring composition inspiring performance! You can see the performance here:

Poetry Cocktail Party

Looking forward to reading this Friday, (4/26) with this stellar lineup of Orlando-area poets, including Orlando’s Poet Laureate, Susan Lilley!

Winter Park Paint-Out, Kerouac Project of Orlando & the Polasek Museum present the 2019 Poetry Cocktail Party

Friday, April 26th

5-8 p.m. cocktail party at the Polasek Museum

6pm: Naomi Butterfield (Kerouac House Board)

6:15 p.m.: Amy Watkins

Amy Watkins is the author of the chapbooks Lucky, Milk & Water, and Wolf Daughter (coming in June 2019). She lives in Winter Park with her husband and daughter and a mean-spirited ginger cat.

6:30 p.m.: Nylda Dieppa

Nylda is an author, educator, coach, and social justice activist living in Orlando, FL. She is the author of the award-winning book Alborada: A Poetic Memoir Across Cultures and has read her poetry in a variety of venues in Orlando and New York City. The proud grandmother of six delightful grandchildren, Nylda is the leader of the Maitland Writers Group and publishes its eponymous newsletter.

7pm: Stacy Barton

Stacy Barton is the award-winning literary author of Lily Harp (2015 INDIEFAB), Like Summer Grass, and Surviving Nashville: Short Stories. Her work has appeared in various literary journals including Gargoyle, Best of Potomac Review, Ruminate, and Southern Women’s Review. Stacy is also the author of picture books, plays, animated short films—plus hundreds of live shows for Disney, SeaWorld, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey and others.

7: 15 p.m.: Chrissy Kolaya

Chrissy Kolaya is a fiction writer and poet who’s brand new to Orlando, having lived all over, from Chicago to California to rural Alabama, and, most recently, the frigid wilds of Minnesota. She teaches creative writing at UCF and is the author of two books: Any Anxious Body: a book of poems about family secrets, and Charmed Particles: a novel about high-energy particle physics, gifted and talented teenage girls, Mary Kay ladies, and one woman’s obsession with novelty convenience foods of the 1980s.

7:30 p.m.: Susan Lilley, Orlando Poet Laureate

Susan Lilley is a Florida native and is currently serving as Orlando’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Saw Palm, Hippocampus, The Florida Review, Sweet, and other journals. Her two chapbooks are Night Windows and Satellite Beach. She is a past winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award and has held a State of Florida Individual Arts Fellowship. She has taught at University of Central Florida and Rollins College, and currently teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park. Her new full collection, Venus in Retrograde, was published spring of 2019 by Burrow Press.

Collaborative Project Premiere

Really excited to share the news about this collaborative project with composer Alex Burtzos, which premiers here in Orlando on Sunday! 

UCF poet and musician collaborate on emotional choral piece

By Arielle Feldman | March 15, 2019 

UCF Chorus

Based on a poem by Chrissy Kolaya, Alex Burtzos’ choral piece “Mirabilis” will be performed by the UCF Chamber Singers at UCF Celebrates the Arts.

“You are alive.” These three simple yet powerful words—painted on a wall near the World Trade Center ruins—brought Chrissy Kolaya to a record-screeching halt.

“The image of it just took my breath away,” says Kolaya, who came across the graffiti in the days following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. “It struck me that whoever had made it was engaging in a kind of entirely understandable magical thinking: if I write that this is so, it will be.”

So, Kolaya went and did her own writing, using the anonymous writer’s graffiti as inspiration for her poem “Annus Mirabilis.” At the time, she was working in publishing in Chicago, editing a series of books that frequently quoted the Bible. One verse in particular always stuck out to her: Isaiah 49:15-16, which reads, “I will never forget you./See, I have written you/on the palms of my hands.” The rhythm and cadence of those lines inspired the final line of her own poem: “See, I have written you/on the walls of the city.”

“Annus Mirabilis” is featured in Kolaya’s forthcoming book of poems “Other Possible Lives,” which is coming out summer 2019 and available to preorder here. Now the poem lives in musical form as well, thanks to a collaboration between Kolaya, who is a UCF English assistant professor, and UCF Music assistant professor Alex Burtzos. Burtzos composed a choral piece based on Kolaya’s poem, which will be performed by the UCF Chamber Singers at UCF Celebrates the Arts. The piece will premiere on April 7, 2019 as part of the UCF Choral Concert: Building Bridges, in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts at 7:30 pm. The concert is free for UCF students and people age 18 and under if tickets are reserved by April 5 at 5 p.m. Standard tickets are $5.

An interdisciplinary collaboration is born

Burtzos and Kolaya, both new to UCF, met at the College of Arts and Humanities faculty orientation in fall of 2018 and found instant camaraderie. Their conversation drifted to the types of poems that translate well into choral pieces. “What was interesting to me was that it wasn’t all what I had imagined,” says Kolaya. “I thought it would need to be a rhyme-y poem with a lot of repetition, but what Alex told me was that a short, image-focused poem was often the best.” Kolaya sent Burtzos a packet of all the poems she thought had potential for a strong choral composition. He selected “Annus Mirabilis.”

“Chrissy’s poem deals with a powerful national trauma, but this piece is intended to transcend that event by drawing attention to aspects of love, hope and optimism about the future,” says Burtzos.

More collaborations are coming

When asked if more interdisciplinary collaborations are on the horizon, Burtzos says, “Absolutely. Perhaps the best thing about working in an academic environment is that you’re surrounded by gifted, creative people all the time. I want to collaborate as much as possible.” He plans to write pieces for the UCF wind ensemble and orchestra next year.

Kolaya shares the same sentiment about blending disciplines at UCF. “I love those moments when artists from different areas are able to come together to create work,” says Kolaya. “There’s a fantastic energy in interdisciplinary collaboration. Being part of UCF Celebrates the Arts is also a great introduction to some of the cool things happening on our campus and the possibilities we have as an institution full of really interesting, creative people!”

Visit the choral concert’s webpage to reserve tickets. View the full line-up for UCF Celebrates the Arts here.

#TeamDzanc AWP Offsite Reading

AWP-bound friends, I’m excited to be reading with Dzanc Books press-mates Julia Dixon Evans, Alice Hatcher, Jac Jemc, Robert Lopez, Jarret Middleton, Lance Olsen, Emma Smith-Stevens, and Jason Tougow, this Friday, March 29, from 7-9 p.m. at the Erickson Gallery in Portland.

It’s a quick walk from the convention center. Hope you can join us for short readings, drinks, snacks, and shenanigans!

Curiosity, Connection, and Kindness: a few thoughts on AWP

I put the piece below together for some of the grad students I teach, many of whom will be heading to AWP for the first time later this week. I thought it might be useful for us all as we hit the road for our annual conference/homecoming for writers.

The first time I went to AWP, I was terrified and overwhelmed. There were so many people there trying to accomplish all of the same things I was; suddenly everything I imagined for myself seemed impossible.

After many years, and lots of trial and error, I’m now able to see AWP in a very different way: as chance to connect with other folks who are as excited to geek out over writing as I am. 

My mantra these days: Go with an attitude of curiosity, connection, and kindness.

If you find yourself in a panel that isn’t what you thought it would be or doesn’t seem useful to you, it’s completely okay to sneak out if you can do so unobtrusively. If you think this is likely to be the case, try to snag a seat in the back and on an aisle if at all possible. You can check out another panel (again, if you can sneak in unobtrusively) or roam the book fair. 

Remember: as big and as overwhelming as it may seem while you’re there, the writing world is small, and these folks will be your colleagues for the rest of your career: behave accordingly (including and especially at evening and offsite events).

Be kind to the people tabling in the book fair. Whatever kind of a long day you’re having, theirs is probably longer and filled with more awkward interactions. Should you find yourself book-fair chatting with an editor who has rejected you or has been sitting on a piece for quite some time, stifle the urge to tell them this. Instead, tell them something you like about their journal: the cover, the design, a piece you admired in it. 

Buy books and journals if you can; if you’re on a tight budget, note that nearly everything will be deeply discounted on Saturday as the conference comes to a close.

If you’re an introvert, pace yourself, but don’t hide out. You may want to make use of the conference quiet room (

Keep an eye out for folks who seem to be terrified and overwhelmed, and if you can, invite them to join you and your friends for a conversation, a meal, an offsite event.

Looking forward to seeing you all there, and if you find yourself feeling lost or lonesome, I hope you’ll reach out. My AWP dancecard is is always a more-the-merrier one, and you’re welcome to tag along with whatever I’m up to.

Safe travels, everyone! See you in Portland!

John S. Lucas Great River Reading Series

Heading back to Minnesota to read at Winona State University’s John S. Lucas Great River Reading Series on Monday.

MN friends, would love to see some familiar faces if you’re in the area!

When: Monday, September 17th, 5 p.m.
Where: Stark Hall 103, Winona State University

Free and open to the public!

Thanks a million to the fabulous Elizabeth Oness for the invitation!

Creative Writing Club for Kids and Teens

Morris area kids and teens, save the date!

First meeting of this year’s Creative Writing Club at the Morris Public Library, next Saturday, May 12: 2 p.m. for kids, 3 p.m. for teens. (Participants are welcome to join whichever group they prefer.)

Wondering what we do there? Check out some of the highlights from last year:

This year’s meeting dates:
Saturday, May 12
Saturday May 19
Saturday June 2
Saturday June 9
Saturday June 16
Saturday June 23
See you at the Morris Public Library!

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through grants from the Lake Region Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund.




Some Exciting News!

Some exciting news to share: this fall, I’ll be joining the creative writing faculty at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. As some of you know, this type of teaching and mentoring position has been a long-time dream for me, and I’m especially excited to be part of such a growing and dynamic graduate and undergraduate program.
As a family, we’re sad to be leaving Morris, a place where we learned so many good lessons about community, where we’ve made many lifelong friends, and which has been an incredible place to raise our sons.
We’ll miss Minnesota, a state where I’ve felt supported as a writer beyond my wildest dreams.
We will not miss Minnesota winters.

Looking forward to learning more about Florida and Orlando’s literary communities!