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!


Gratitude for “Old” Students

Feeling some serious gratitude for “old” students!

Woke up to a message a few days ago from the incredible, unstoppable Joshua P. Preston: “I’ll be participating in the University of Minnesota Libraries Poetry Live! Series, reading Robert Bly’s “Gratitude to Old Teachers” — followed by the work of, well, two of my teachers, Chrissy Kolaya and James Lenfestey. Tune in!”

And now you can! With thanks and admiration to Josh, Jennifer Shaw-Spence, Kate Hujda, Cecily Marcus, and the whole Poetry Live project! 


You can watch more episodes of Poetry Live!, their awesome Read This Book! series, and lots more cool stuff here:

Writer in the Schools

Belatedly sharing some pics of the fantastic poetry students I’ve gotten to work with this year as a Writer in the School at Morris Area High School.

Thanks so much to the  Morris Area Arts Boosters for making this possible, to Ms. Moulton for welcoming me into her classroom, and to these incredible students, who rolled with every crazy activity I brought into class, from Frank O’Hara-inspired Mad Libs to Centos and Exquisite Corpses!

One heck of a welcome! Thanks, Ms. Moulton!

FIERCELY sharing their Frank O’Hara-inspired Mad Lib poem!

Mad Lib poet chefs!

Cento building materials

Hunting through literary journals, anthologies, and poetry collections for some Cento building blocks

Hunting through literary journals, anthologies, and poetry collections for some Cento building blocks

Kardashian Khristmas Kard-inspired Poetry Family Photo!