Synchronicity Reigns

I often make notes and mark passages in books, mostly little erasable dots, as I read. Then I flip through the book and decide if the dotted bits deserve to move onto my prompt list or into my journal for further attention. Just now I am close to finishing Bill Nye’s Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (2015). Nye, of course, makes science palatable, convincing, entertaining. And this week, he’s served me a big gulp of awe.

Because I own this book, instead of erasable dots, I’ve written  marginal notes, most of which function as an index: “Oh, yeah, here’s that quote about the Cambrian Explosion.” And on page 290 I marked the date April 17, 2020 : “Viruses seem to have come into existence [as] self-replicating, stasis-maintaining organisms. …Viruses are a significant part of our world.” Indeed. Eerie to come across this now, in April 2020, what poet T. S. Eliot had years ago named “the cruelest month.” This year more cruel than usual.

Not that Eliot knew about Covid-19 or the evolution of viruses, but this is National Poetry Month and the overlaps between my random reading, my mental file of poetry, and the danger of viral infection strike me as marvelous–as in I marvel at the connections. Scary, but marvelous all the same. Now excuse me, I have eleven pages left in Undeniable. Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask, please.

Making Do for Now

Given this pandemic-enforced retreat, I’ve taken up a project that often surprises me. In the previous post I mentioned reading Let the Crazy Child Write. In this long quiet, I have challenged myself to do several of the exercises that author Clive Matson suggests, one of which directs me to interview someone. Well, that’s tricky during our sequestered lives. But Matson does say that one might interview herself. Hmm, could that work? As a matter of fact … it does. I came up with three questions that I imagine answering in an interview: 1. Tell me about your early experiences as a writer; 2. Which of your early experiences are most important or most memorable? and 3. What’s next for you?

Here then, is my answer to the first, understandably self-satisfying, but I am intrigued by the voice that responded to the prompt.

I remember writing bizarre and clumsy poems when I was in high school. And I wrote a theme every week for Hubert Clemons, my high-school English teacher at Potter Academy. Then I had a long hiatus in which I admired John Lennon’s poems but wrote none that I recall. I was drawn to visual art, took a mail-order drawing course and lessons from a local art teacher. But poetry still lurked in some mental back room. When I went to Yuba Community College, I took a creative writing course and a survey of English Lit, the latter with a wonderful teacher, Robert Mognis, and began writing again. From that point on I read and wrote plenty, but had no one to share the work with until several years later when I started grad school and published a poem in the Georgia Southern lit mag. And finally, a first acceptance from a stranger, a poem called “Last Supper.” Oddly, I don’t find a copy of that one in any of my notebooks.

Random Thoughts While Waiting

What I’m reading while I’m staying home:

The Moth, art and literature, Issue 40, Spring 2020

The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr

Let Your Crazy Child Write, Clive Matson–not about homeschooling, subtitle is “Finding and Freeing Your Creative Voice.”

Zoom Manual for Participants.pdf

Contributions by writing friends in what Wikipedia describes as “Exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis), is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled.”

Cover to cover of the latest New Yorker.

By the end of the day, when my eyes are tired, I watch several episodes of a British documentary series, Time Team, all about archeology. By now the cast feels like family, and since I cannot visit with my family other than those with whom I live, it’s a good thing to see familiar faces. (Familiar deriving from family.)

However long our sequestering lasts, I’m sure I have enough to entertain and distract me. But right now, the sun is shining, I live in suburbia, so we have wide sidewalks, and spring temps, so for a while I will put away words and see what the birds and the neighbors are up to.

Oh, yes, I’m writing.

My Tribe Increases

Almost thirteen years ago when I landed in Colorado, one of the first things I did was to seek out poets at Naropa University in Boulder. I spent a week writing under the guidance of Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. That experience led to my collection The Great Hunger. And standing in line to go to a reading, I fell into conversation with another woman. She and I are still good friends and Cyndeth Allison has led me to other writers.

During my years here I have joined and retired from a number of writers’ organizations–Colorado Independent Publishers Association, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Columbine Poets of Colorado, the continuing ed faculty at Front Range Community College, Boulder Bookstore’s Live Poets book club, and a good handful of less public venues, like the two critique groups I go to regularly, and readings at Book Bar in Denver, and open mics at The Firehouse in Longmont. My tribe has increased because even when a membership ends, I seem to carry along another good companion or two. My latest connection is the Spoken Word weekly event in Lafayette at East Simpson Coffee Company.

Recently, talking to a man who has mostly written in private, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have a community of writers. Of course, I value my quiet early mornings when I practice my evil arts, but once the sun is up and the car key is in my hand, I’m off to see what the writing world has to offer. It rarely disappoints.

#EastSimpsonCoffeeCompany #TheGreatHunger

Book Returns

Despite the title here, this post has nothing to do with a library. My good friend Anita Halvorssen is moving after many years in her house. Over quite a few of those years, she and I have shared our writing adventures and tips on how to get it done. We meet for coffee most Friday mornings, and recently she arrived with a book I had lent her who-knows how long ago, How to Write; Advice and Reflections by Richard Rhodes.

I’m impressed that she could single it out, but there are my initials on the small-title page. I had forgotten it, yet there are my familiar under linings. Of course, I started browsing to see what I had marked years ago, and now  I am once again a Rhodes scholar. This book still matters. So do my notes. I’m on page 155, headed to completion, again. Understand, this book was published in 1995, so it’s a little dated. The  writing-tools section is, but the deeper aspects still resonate. The art and act of writing remains.

It’s likely that Dante and Ovid and others from the past had challenges not unlike our own. I hope they had good friends who return borrowed books, and writing advice that never feels stale. Like these from Rhodes: “Imagination is compassionate” (p.4). Or, “…time and chance happen to us all” (p. 69). And this, “Words are the model, words are the tools, words are the boards, words are the nails (p. 166).

Being part of a writing community helps–whether it’s two or twenty or two hundred, whether it’s shared books, shared tips, shared smiles and tears. Thanks, Anita. Thanks Richard Rhodes.

#Accidental Child #Providence #Invisible Juan

Lost in Bookland

It’s been a long time since I spent time here. So where have I been? Oh, mostly in my chair, chocolate nearby, and a book in my hands. Just what I need with the onset of winter–technically a ways off, but last week we had a doozy on the Front Range of Colorado–cold, snowy, good reading weather. Here’s what I have to confess:

Joy Harjo’s How We Became Human, and her Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, both poetry. Ms. Harjo is our current Poet Laureate of the United States, and our first Native American appointee. If you have one of those magical speakers, try telling it to play Joy Hargo. I did and got two hours of her poetry and music. She’s an accomplished musician, plays the saxophone.

The Western Woman’s Reader, edited by Lillian Schlissel and Catherine Lavender. This one I stumbled on at a thrift store and it’s a valuable find. The blurb: “Explore 300 years of the American West with the women who have shaped its history.”

Richard Blanco’s poems, City of a Hundred Fires. Even if you don’t lean toward poetry (although you should), these will convert you. Who knew a civil engineer could write poetry? Well, this one can.

Paul Theroux’s On the Plain of Snakes, a tour guide to Mexico that makes me squirm, given our fraught relationship with our neighbors. This book is on my tablet, thanks to an app called Libby, which allows me to borrow digital/audio books with my library card. A marvelous thing while I was traveling and great for snow days when I’m snuggled in at home.

Now, excuse me, but I’ve just started Cynthia Ozick’s Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, & Other Literary Essays, and I really must get back to it.

#EcoInfo

How Do I Do? Very well, thanks.

Natalie Goldberg says to free write until you get past monkey mind and she’s right. Then again, for decades she’s been right about writing. So, thanks to her I’ve altered my morning writing sessions. For years I’ve clung to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and filled three pages, much of which was truly monkey mind, full of to-do lists or rambling self-castigation about my insipid journal. Then, for a short while I tried to model my morning writing after Eric Maisel’s Deep Writing, attempting to “clear my mind” and write “deeply” about the first object in my line of sight. That approach ended when I wrote deeply about my slippers or my coffee table.

Recently I’ve been adhering to Nat’s advice in The True Secret of Writing. (I feel free to refer to her by her nickname, having once met her briefly at a book fair.) More often now, I’m having fun, not as quick to judge, believing most days, that if I don’t censor and don’t quit at the bottom of page three, something interesting and fresh will pop up, sort of whack-a-molish. But lately I don’t smack the pop-up, keep the pen moving, excited to see where the words lead. And I’m through, I think, demanding that every page I fill must be productive.

For all my years of preaching process and practice over product and publication, I see now that I often didn’t take my own advice. Now I have a purse-sized notebook full of Nat’s advice–like “Don’t waste this one precious life.” Writing is again discovery, getting beyond my own opinions and, you know, it’s fun. And the more fun I have, the less I ration time and paper.

Read/Recite

As part of an active community of poets, I read and hear all sorts of poetry at open mics and public readings, where poets read their work with varying results. Some read from a book, a reassuring thing, as a published book suggests that the work that has been vetted, edited, worked on diligently. Sometimes the reader’s voice enhances work that I might read on my own. I recall having read a book of poems that did not impress me, but when I subsequently heard the poet read, aha! There was plenty there after all. Not all readers have that skill. Some mumble, some shout, some stumble, some drone on far too long. Please, don’t commit any of these venial sins.

Some read from an electronic device, often a phone. That makes me uneasy. Phones are small, poems not so much. And wonderful as technology is, things do freeze on the screen, the connection goes wonky, the evil thing runs out of juice midway through a poem. So, I don’t trust that method. I’ve yet to have a poem disappear from a printed page. (Yes, I’ve lost pages but that’s an issue for another time.)

Occasionally, a poet recites fully fed, sumptuous work. Right out of the mouth, no papers or screens or books with said poet’s work on them. My reaction? Queasy, what if he/she forgets an important line or word? And I’ve seen a speaker pause to retrieve the memorized work. Said speaker is, according to a successful reciter, reading from an invisible teleprompter. The giveaway is the loss of eye contact with the audience and a brief glance to one side. And there’s the rub. Losing even a nanosecond of connection with the audience breaks the contract, the one where the poet promises to deliver work that flows effortlessly. The effort should be behind us, left on the  desktop, or it should be.

So, there’s no one right way, except one that works–delivers the poem seamlessly, with verve and clear diction. Think about it, practice, prepare. Ours is not a profession that earns much money, but it should earn us the respect of those who choose to listen.

Creative Reading

I’m deep into Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination, in which she mentions “Creative Reading.” Google explains: “CREATIVE READING IS DEFINED AS READING FOR IMPLIED AND INFERRED MEANINGS, APPRECIATIVE REACTIONS, AND CRITICAL EVALUATION. THE ACT OF CRITICAL READING GOES BEYOND LITERAL COMPREHENSION TO DEMAND THAT THE READER PRODUCE FRESH, ORIGINAL IDEAS NOT EXPLICITLY STATED IN THE READING MATERIAL.” https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED020090

The concept challenges me to forego my habit of reading like a writer–attending to craft, structure, bits and bobs of language. If I shift my focus, squint a little, I think I could start by admitting that I have expectations when I open a book: I’ll be entertained, I’ll learn something, I’ll be awed by the writing, I’ll be distracted from the ugly national/international/climate news.

And I have different expectations that spring from the general category of the material. For instance, opening poet Ada Limon’s The Carrying, I looked forward to insights into another woman’s private world that I could not access otherwise. Limon does not disappoint. No lack of “appreciative reactions” there.

Reading Nafisi, though, I am deluged with ideas. Not unusual in reading nonfiction. Of course, I’ve yet to “produce fresh, original ideas not explicitly stated in the reading material.” There’s already so much in Nafisi’s prose that I haven’t yet found space for my own ideas. But what she gives me is valuable, and I am challenged to go beyond “literal comprehension.”

Nafisi has dared me to set aside my familiar ways of reading and to widen my view. I’ve been reading since I was four years old. About time for a new approach, eh?

#CreativeReading #AdaLimon #AzarNafisi

Talk, Talk, Talk

Lately, it seems I talk a lot. Possibly, more than is helpful. On Sunday I talked to a group of people about poetry. They were all adults (Kids and poetry startle me, like giving them too much sugar, so they get squirrely). We talked about the essential concerns I see in writing poems. Like getting caught up in technique and missing the creativity. Thinking that there is one kind of poetry, a basket word if I ever heard one. Generic, like music or food or weather. Better to speak of specifics. Poetry might mean sonnets or it might mean rap, slam, language poetry, prose poems or haiku.  It includes the many years old Gilgamesh, Illiad, Odyssey, as well as the latest thing on Instagram.

This coming weekend, I’m engaged to talk to poets about self-publishing. I’ve got my list of salient points and a tote bag full of books, from my first independently published chapbooks to the latest volumes I’ve created for friends. I’ve got my list of does and don’ts. And several handouts from online outfits that will do the work for you, for a price.

In the meantime, I’m reading Robert Darnton’s Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. And so far, I’m gobsmacked to realize that I live in a time and place that allows me to publish my own books and to help others do the same. The book police won’t  throw me into the Bastille. (Yes, that happened in France in the eighteenth century.) Self publishing is not a lucrative endeavor, although it seems to have been in Paris where illegal books slipped past the censors and the tax men. Darnton knows a lot about clandestine printing, selling, and suffering for books.

Yes, I too suffer for books, but in my own private way–what to put in, what to leave out, how to say something that might last the night.

#SelfPublishing #Censorship