Be, Do, Have

Recently I heard those title words at a Colorado Independent Publishers Association meeting (CIPA, pronounced see pa, accent on see)  from a marketing specialist, Erik Hofstetter, CEO of Creative Visions, Denver CO. Among other marketing concerns he talked about knowing what a product–a book– should be, should do, should have in order to satisfy the reader or publisher. We were asked to apply these three categories to our own books. Inspired, I came home and thought about how these words apply, not just to my new novel, but to my writing in general.

I want my writing to be clear, articulate, a significant witness to the world as I see it, not necessarily as I think it should be. I don’t want it to be a sermon. It should be accessible to most English speaking readers.

It should do the following: entertain, hold the reader’s attention, make sense to any sensible reader, offer insights into the subject matter and provide details that lend it authenticity. It should surprise me and the reader. Remember Robert Frost’s caution: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

My writing should have legs, its news traveling by word of mouth from person to person, and it should  have staying power in a reader’s mind and in the market place. It should have resonance–that tuning fork analogy that suggests writer and reader react to similar stimuli.

Marketing is my hardest task as a writer, but at the very least, Mr. Hofstetter has given me a framework for this task. I cannot guarantee that what I write and publish will measure up to all that I’ve described above, but I know what I want my work to be/do/have. Try this thought experiment with your own work and let me know what you discover.

Remembering Michael Macklin

Macklin

DRIFTLAND

Sleep didn’t do much for me last night. I woke up torn about what to do with this day of rest when I’m restless, plagued by a to-do list hard to ignore. Times like this I miss most my friend Michael Macklin. Michael introduced me to Tullamore Dew, the only Irish whiskey I’ll drink. We were partners in poetry and determined talkers, often at Brian Boru’s over a Dew, straight up, till I left Maine for Colorado. Michael died in his sleep a few years ago. A small teddy bear that he gave me sits near my desk. It wears two feathers tucked into its shirt, one from a flicker, one from a crow. Michael and I liked crows–smart, working-class birds with firm opinions. As I drove off to live in the west, I often saw the three crows Michael had commissioned to watch over me.

This cold morning, I think of his practice when the world grew weary: go to an island, take a dog, a beer and a book. Sit on a rock and think. Today all available rocks are iced over. Beer’s not my drink. I do have a dog beside me and I have Michael’s book of poems, Driftland, but there’re damned few islands in Colorado.

As I consider the worldview from my writing chair, I immediately recall a comment overheard at a coffee shop a few days ago: “Remember those neutron bombs meant to kill people and leave the infrastructure intact?” Shit! If that bomb killed people it would kill crows, dogs, pet hamsters, owls. What would be left worth having without any life in the scene? It’s a scary thing—thinking. To sit on a stone and let the mind off its tether wouldn’t necessarily soothe me. And right now I want soothing. I’m tired of mean people and bombs, or the threat of bombs, of learning yet again that a celebrity whom I have admired might well be a rapist. I’m tired of being a poet of witness given how much evil I see. I see and I see and I’ve seen too much. I just want to close my eyes. Not a sane approach, though, eh?

Michael, did you always find solace on your island? Did beer, book and dog steady you? Anyway, thanks for trying. I’m reading your poems and they help. If you are there in the ether, on a cloud, how’s the view?

________________________________________________________________________

I think Michael would agree to sharing one of his poems with you:

Before Coffee

Every morning the dark-robed crows

congregate in the pines at the edge of my yard,

sitting in small groups grumbling

until I step onto the lighted porch.

 

They grow quiet as monks,

cock their heads and mumble

perhaps in Latin

and we share an early prayer,

a magnificat for another day.

 

All winter we have met like this at dawn,

wind fluttering their black cassocks

as they peer down their noses

to view me at my lessons.

 

For the moment we inhale the crackling air

until they rattle with impatience, cackle

at my feeble attempts to see the face of God,

and the old men in the trees fly off.

Writing Outside & In

Writing asks of me two approaches, one to determine what goes on inside me and one to guide me through the outer world, parsing it into manageable bits. Did I say manageable? Well, let’s see about that.

Internally, I spend time with my notebooks—every morning, first thing when life is still uninterrupted and quiet—writing morning pages, drafting poems, fiction, blogs, etc. Many of these writing hours happen at home in my comfy chair, some in one of three coffee shops that I frequent and where I find solace, because coffee shops make no demands on me. I buy my drink, my cookie, settle in and rarely speak to anyone. Whatever happens on the page comes from me.

Externally—let me count the ways that I function in my writing community. I go to a Goldbergian free writing group in a Denver artist’s studio every other Tuesday evening, usually the same Tuesday when my morning features a long-standing women’s group: we meet at a member’s home, talk, write and share what we have written. There’s no prep for either of these because the talking leads to the topic.

I facilitate a writing group twice a month with seven other writers. I go weekly to a long-running poetry critique group, which requires a fresh poem or revision each week. This one keeps me honest and productive. Then there’s the Friday 500 at Lighthouse Writers Workshop twice a month. I only miss this if there’s a blizzard or hundred-year flood. Today will bring the first of another group. My friend Toi, a chef, is starting a series of cooking classes that includes a mindfulness writing exercise. That’s my role.

Monthly I co-host Cannon Mine Poetry readings in Lafayette, CO. Recently, I added Michael Henry’s monthly free writing event at the Denver Art Museum. He’s the head guy at Lighthouse and an excellent teacher/poet/human being. Add Colorado Independent Publishing Association where I learn the business side of writing. I serve on the CIPA board, so that means all-day immersion once a month, plus planning CIPA’s Focus Forums, small-group meetings centered on a specific topic. Boulder Books has a monthly poetry book club, so I read the assigned book of poetry before hand.

Too, there’s social media: this website, Amazon Author’s Page, Goodreads, Linked In, Twitter, Pinterest, and recently, Smashwords, where my new e-novel, Accidental Child, is sold. Let’s not forget poetry readings that I attend, like the ones at Ziggi’s Grill and the Book Bar, both in Denver. This month I’m scheduled to speak to the Longmont Library Writers Group. And none of this precludes shoptalk with friends. (You know who you are.) Yes, writing is often solitary and must be, but my writing also relies on networking and the other writers who are my safety net. May you all be so fortunate.

Wiki Wandering

A couple of weeks ago I spent a busy weekend at Naropa University for their 40th Anniversary conference for the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. A lot of what I heard was theoretical, but one practical tip stood out. In a session titled “Bending the Source: Research, Poiesis, and Document Fluidity,” (The discussion was much more reasonable than the title!) I heard this: Go to Wikipedia, select random article, click through three screens and use something from the final screen as a writing prompt. Crazy? No, it breaks open the thought process and challenges the writer to go new, to go experimental, to go, go, go where she may never have gone before.

My Wiki Wander led me first to a Korean figure skater and my three clicks took me to a list of vocabulary words relating to ballet. I know nothing about ballet, but I do know something about vocabularies. I have several of my own. My first was, of course, conversational standard American English, tinged–some would say tainted–by my grandmother’s Irish flavored English, so it was. Then came the elegant and esoteric language of nursing, which morphed into the specialized lingo of psychiatric nursing. This vocabulary, when written, resembles ancient runes or hieroglyphics to the uninitiated. Over the years I also learned the vocabularies of teaching, writing, harness racing, genealogy and book publishing. There are more that I probably don’t recognize as distinct, because they are all part of me, words, wonderful words, my raw material.

Each of these specialized languages marks me for membership in a special community. I’m in because I speak the native tongue, but no matter how large or strange my word hoard, I have to be precise and flexible at the same time. And as a writer I have to accept the responsibility to translate experience into shared language.

My Novel Lives!

Slide1What a long, long gestation. But it’s almost ripe for delivery. I have only to finish the formatting for Smashwords and with any luck and careful attention, this book will be available to readers next week. But here’s the weird thing about our digital world: now that Accidental Child is about to be seen in public, it feels less real to me. It will be out of my hands and into someone’s e-reader. It won’t be that manuscript draft on gray paper that my editor marked up. It won’t be a file sleeping the days away in the safety of my computer. It won’t be just mine anymore.

 

Not that I’m complaining, really. But I’ve worried about its leaving home. What if it goes unnoticed in the world, like an adult child who travels far and never calls? My only defense is to raise another one. And hope that all my literary children are hardworking and honorable among the throngs of books crying for attention. I have to let it go and hope that I’ve given it a good start in life, but whatever it does, there it is for all the world to see–or at least a small part of the world. Travel safe, Little One. Write if you get work. Call your mother on her birthday, or yours.

 

 

Poets & Readers Need One Another

Sea SaltIn 1991 poet/critic Dana Gioia asked “Can Poetry Matter?” His essay ran in The Atlantic and drew attention by the bucketful. That essay became the title piece for a book by the same name and I am rereading it this week. I was tidying my book shelves and felt the pull of his question. It’s akin to what I spent hours and hours on this past summer, poetry of witness, poetry that connects the poet to the world outside the private writing space. As Gioia points out, American poetry is marginalized and one of several reasons is an intense concentration on the personal lyric, short and hermetic, not something that anyone but another poet values. Yet, yet, I cannot let it go. I want to help return poetry to the public, not by pandering, not by polemic, but by truth telling in the most potent language I can discover. It’s no longer enough to delight in the private epiphany.

Last evening the Boulder Book Store hosted, as it does monthly, a poetry book club. We had read David Mason’s Sea Salt, and David came to talk with us about the book and about his practice and approach to poetry.  He said many useful things. He said that we must at times embed our personal lyric within the context of the national, the societal, the human condition, even though “Our troubles/happened, but were smaller than a country’s” (from “The Fawn”).

The overwhelming presence of personal lyric in our time has done poets some damage, but it’s not too late to rebuild our relationship with readers, whom we desperately need, and who need, whether they know it or not, poems that demonstrate the precision and the music of a shared language, poems that can weave a community out of a disparate, desperate population.