Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lake House Diary VI (Thinking About the Prose Poem)

I just came back from a long weekend on a large island in Lake Erie. It was an annual gathering of writers that we figured out has been going on for 20 years. Good friends, good writing, good newcomers, surprising turns, noisy dinners, conclaves on the back deck, swimming off the bird sanctuary beach. Because I've been having kind of a dry summer, I brought with me a talismanic notebook (steno) that I used several years ago when I wrote like a storm pouring out and everyone would wish for a return of that kind of bounty as do I.

I also considered if I am nostalgic for the rhythms of the prose poem. Maybe I think that because of my two recent readings. At one, having read a number of poems in a row, I read the last poem (a prose poem) as if I was a furnace gusting out a great fireball or a prophet letting loose his proclamation. At the other, I read in a much more punctuated, measured style. But this second reading was only one poem--much time elapses--and then second poem (not prose poems). And I know a rhythm and a power can be built if there is a continuing in the reading. Something to think about.

Maybe my sense is that prose poems sometimes have something untamed about them and I like that. Do not gentle me! Nor should I gentle myself in this! I went to the prose poem because of rhythm but maybe there was also burgeoning and proliferation and carelessness in the right way which really means there was not care in a mingey persnicketty kind of way. I need that wildness again.

(note at the bottom of one of those notebook pages: feral cats in the backyard)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lakehouse Diary V

Writing this on the program for the symphony performance because I am so very early. I heard music as I was approaching the amphitheater and thought I had mistaken the time. But just warming up and delightfully discordant. The orchestra is wearing white. The Glossary to my left says Adagio. Allegro. I think there were more people here yesterday but maybe it's early days yet. The lecture went well. Heard that it was useful, rapid-fire (good, good). People laughed in the right places. My lecture/reading person is not the same me nor is my workshop person.

I think I finally managed to relax this evening before walking over here. I sat out on the balcony and read an entertaining, light-hearted book on Kindle. Usually my time is too carved up/allotted so that here long stretches of the day just confuse me. Maybe I can write for a set time for the next three days though I still have the workshop plus prep and the individual conferences plus prep. Molto. Piu. Sostenuto. What about what I began in class today? Object study of the patio's awning? Maybe make that sense of being a possession or attachment a part of the poem. Must be careful not to step on Mary's poem's toes. Many people with pillows. I can always sit on my jacket. Forte. Cadenza. I wonder if this robust rattle makes them more perfectly in time when the official music begins. Much fuller now.

Excerpt from my lecture--"Beginnings, Endings, Titles, and White Space":

A title is a convenience, an aid, an arrestment. If a poem has a title, the reader feels he has a handle on things, an orientation. And maybe that helps him enter the unfamiliar territory of otherness, the exotic, the dangerous, the sensory. So first, the title can make the poem approachable. OK. As the reader I know where we’re going, even if that turns out to be a complete illusion.

A title has many possible uses which is why I can never understand why people want to say “untitled” or “Poem #732.” Why throw away an opportunity?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lakehouse Diary IV (New Lake Again)

August 15, 2014
Where has Brenda Hillman been all my life? I have just started reading Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. I love it—playfulness, attention to sound, wordplay, interjections of Latin insect names, scattered vivid image, white spaciness later on. I felt more excited reading the Section I title page (4 epigraphs and a section called “Argument” which is a very, very long list: “microseasons, vowels, panticles, California grasses, existence, sex, the cosmos . . .) and the first three poems than I have felt all summer.

August 16, 2014
Things I have heard this morning: operatic-y voice singing a hymn, somebody practicing the piano, church bells tolling the hour, church bells playing a Woody Guthrie song, boat honk, parts of a sermon, motor boat buzz. I have practiced my reading which will be today at 3:30. I have studied on the parts of my first workshop tomorrow. I have worked on the lecture that will be on Tuesday at lunch. After lunch today, I took a short walk down to the lake shore and over past the Atheneum to the beach. Later: reading + reception + more Brenda Hillman+ listening to Thrity Umrigar’s NPR interview. (Swimming in words.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lakehouse Diary III (New Lake)

Friday, July 18th

I am sitting at the desk in our hotel in Reno, a way station on the way to Lake Tahoe and all that it represents for me personally which is in part a kind of personhood where all my first impulses are to me and to my writing and to my healing from whatever vicissitudes have been marking me. I want to let go of all the responsibilities I usually carry. I want to feel happy. When they say "happy as a clam," maybe it's because the clam is in his shell and can shut up shop  for the day as he sees fit. I want to go and steep myself like a teabag in beauty. I want to open up the doors that are shut in the everyday behind which are the things of my poems. That's not really true since the things of my poems are made up of little pieces from my life. But something is shut up or off--maybe the muscle of my writing, maybe the ceiling is lowered when I need the whole sky to carome off of, gyrate, flex, like the acrobat/gymnast I never was. So, clam. So, teabag (sorry this has some kind of possibly icky sexual connotations). So, ceiling raised, pushed up, opened, wiped.

On the plane I made notes of 3 things I'd like to write about--not in poems I don't think:
1. What would your writing plan be if you got a Guggenheim or whatever and had a year off in which to write?
2. What is something you don't normally attempt like that note in the orange notebook about deliberately trying to evoke something in the reader--I think it was in response to an author saying how he deliberately tried to evoke horror.
3. Questions from the writing group discussion of my 2 poems.
  • I was struck by B's noting my use of items from daily life/pop culture and calling them kitsch. Surely that 's a term of a derogatory nature. He asked why I didn't use more  formal or classic elements. Was this question arising out of "value" or having to do with process? (kitsch--"something of tawdry design, appearance or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste." "tawdry, vulgarized, or pretentious (sentimental appeal)."
  • L's question about how the poems had 2 parts which worked differently and had different levels of impact on the reader. Interested in thinking about this in detail.
  • T's question about whether I intended emotional or intellectual response which I realized only later can never be one or the other but always both in various stages of realization/permutations of power.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lakehouse Diary II


More snakes! Although really just one when I went for a walk at the end of the drive. I wrote a very strange poem today about how people supposedly have mistaken a giant fish or a whale or a giant turtle for land. Even St. Brendan! Very long multi-syllabic words for it in several languages. The poem interests me but is perhaps in another country from other things I have written perhaps ever. I also sorted through my unbooked poems and made 5 sections—two unseries, work series, lecture series, small place series. I think I’ll put “Soldiers” by itself in the front because it seems to me it prequels several sensibilities to come. Sat for a very long time in the canopied swing thing while the wind got stronger and stronger and the light changed and the waves got higher so you could see through them at the top.
P.S. T___ makes us look bad by working longer than M___ and I.


Danger alert! T___ and M___ attacked by a bird down by the miniature golf last night. This was after T___ had given this same bird the bottom of her cone who only got one satisfying peck at it before  there was a giant bird scramble and it was taken away. When we were going to the car, T___ shrieked and I thought she’d fallen, but the bird had thumped her head, and then thumped Mary. We discussed how this and the angry tornado of birds (also yesterday) could be useful scenes in the beginning of a horror film. Today writing another weird poem with parenthetical inclusions that answer the title. Also, we visited the coffee shop/bakery. Good coffee. M___ declares she can’t remember ever having a better cake doughnut. Planning to make a list of poem ideas this afternoon. Something that will be on that list is the Exeter book which has caught my interest.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lakehouse Diary


We arrived at the Lakehouse yesterday. I’m staying upstairs in a room with a giant king-sized bed, yet there are no sheets to fit it. This is the only quibble I have other than the water snakes M___ reported and then I viewed myself today. There’s a narrow rocky beach here with a large portion made up of a drift of tiny shells, but the snake has taken the shine away. Fortunately, there’s this very clever two seated swing with a roof right at the entrance to the beach that is great to sit and rock and read or talk or just look out at the water, hear the waves. The waves all the time like the whoosh of your heartbeat or the anticipation of new things. Advent! All night long I heard them. Also, there are so many more birds here than at Quarry Hollow or any place else on Kelleys Island that I’ve stayed. Red winged blackbirds being the only ones I’m sure of. Yesterday, I heard a bird call that sounded like the chimes of a bell. Today I wrote a new poem in the morning—maybe in the small places in Cleveland category, and I worked on revising “At the Lecture on Lost Bones and Self Worth.” I worked it so much, I can’t tell what it’s like. I’ll have to let it be until tomorrow. Yesterday we had P___’s wonderful Moroccan chicken for dinner and today we’re going to go out to eat. When we went for a walk there were a number of 8 foot tall Queen Anne’s Lace growing. I have never seen them more than 3-ish feet. Anywhere.


Danger update. I started looking up the giant Queen Anne’s Lace on the internet. Turns out it’s hemlock—every part poisonous. M___ had suggested I bite off the stem when I was picking my posy. Glad I didn’t. And I just came back from the beach. I sat on the rocks so I could watch the increasing waves keeping a reptile eye out for snakes. Today I wrote a poem which at first I didn’t like. It started out by my thinking one of my small place poems should be about a censer. When I finished my poem, it just seemed so flat. I finally broke it up into tiny lines with underlining line breaks and I liked it better. I also read all my loose poems to think about making a new book. Lots of series. I think the Aunt H series being subsumed into the whole will make things better. But still lecture series and work series. I know the lecture series can’t be last. Maybe second? Maybe the soldier poem first? I should think about what to write when I go to bed again. Still no cute t-shirt for I___. Two gift shops so far.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

Kris Ohlson invited me to take part in this Blog Tour about Writing Process, everyone answering the same four questions. I’ve been in many writing groups with Kris (at least three) and I’ve always been astonished and pleased by her intense, vivid approaches to subject matter. Kris’s book, The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet (2014),  presents a rethinking of agriculture, as she interviews and interacts with experts, the chapters like a series of core samples, rich and deep. Kris blogs about her writing here.

1) As for me, What am I working on? This is a tough question. It seems I am always working on numerous tasks that flit through my brain like energetic flotsam and jetsam. But if I sort, clarify, I can come up with three tasks that are occupying me. The first is thinking about a poem-a-day project I’m doing with some other poets in June. Because of it, I think I am actually putting off writing anything new this week because I don’t want to be spent (all the excuses one can come up with!). Second, and more long term, I am writing a series of poems based on lectures I attend, recording language and ideas and then departing completely from the subject matter. It is a great way to jump start a poem. I’m trying to decide if the titles, which note “At the Lecture of X and Y” (always two things) are important. Does the poem need them as balance or can-opener or instruction manual? Third, I am putting together a new book. I’ve just started this so the book doesn’t even have a name yet. I can’t refer to it shorthand as “Cake” or “Bird” yet.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? It is kind of dismaying that I don’t have a pat answer to this, but poetry is so various. I like eventual clarity. I am more interested in being earnest than hip/ironic.  I am dark yet joyous with it.

3. Why do I write what I do? I write because I am good at it. I think poetry appeals to me because I have a metaphoric turn of mind. Also, I think in jumps and detours and digressions. Writing poetry helps me to understand things or at least be able to deal with them, run my hands over all their parts and ask questions. Sometimes I choose what I'm writing about, but sometimes not.

4. How does your writing process work? It can start with an image or a turn of phrase that somehow I know is important (recently “turnspit dogs” which I haven’t done anything with yet, but hope to). Then things gather around it. I write longhand or sometimes type into a google doc. I like to establish line length early (now that I’m back to lineated verse), and often use couplets, although I’m doing a little no-punctuation-tab-white-space stuff now and then, and  that’s usually a block of lines. I write towards the unexpected, not knowing where I am going to end up. I better not end up anywhere dull or with someone else’s poem/words/conclusions/images wasting my time. Sound is always important whether I’m doing a big rant-y pour or a finicky image slot. If I had a regret (although not a part of the question), it would be that I can’t see further into the future of my work. What is it planning?

I've asked another Cleveland writer I know to continue the tour. Brad Ricca is a renaissance man amalgamating the comic book/graphic novel universe and the poetic. I got to know him hanging around the Popular Culture Working Group talking about Pet Sounds and Barbarella  and Nancy Drew. His recent works are Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--the Creators of Superman (2013), a literary biography, and American Mastodon (2011), a book of poems that won the St. Lawrence Book Award. He blogs about his work here.