Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ten Things I Hate About Writing

Even though I belong to two writing groups (1 poetry, 1 mixed) and go to two annual retreats (both mixed), sometimes you need more. So yesterday, my sister and I had a writing day.  We talked and made lists: 3 event-oriented things to do in the next six months, 3 things to change in our writing life, 3 things to stop doing, etc. We made a list of 10 things to write about. And we made a list of 10 things we hate about writing. This was meant to be a kind of joke category. Here's what I came up with:

1. I hate that I can't do it all the time.
2. I hate when I seem to be returning to something I thought I was done with.
3. I hate how there's this unconscious/subconscious element. The thing in my head that I cannot control, but I can coax. It's like a goddamn husband. Tempt it to please me!
4. I do not hate how it has become more labyrinthine or complex, how it has remained fluid and potentially unsatisfactory even though it was once satisfactory that way.
5. I hate that I don't have enough time to read support literature whether other poetry, how-to, research for something I want to write.
6. I hate that I cannot expect to support myself as a poet.
7. I hate that there is so much bad writing in the world.
(I could only come up with 7. I stole 8 from my sister.)
8. I hate not being read.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Notes on Student Poems

  • Streamline. How to say something more clearly. 
  • More humor. Jazzy titles
  • How can the reader know what you know? Readers respond to image, narrative, the unexpected, a different point of view.
  • Abandon centering. Think about using stanzas/space to create clearer meaning.
  • Rhyme is doing you no favor.
  • OK. I like all this where the familiar tale is being mixed with other things and given new particulars. But then in last two lines back to usual--why?
  • Too pretty sounding?
  • I like this incremental repetition but I want more. Push harder.
  • Combination of two things can increase interest, effectiveness.
  • Read aloud for rhythm, clarity, necessity.
  • What I want most is for you to experiment with not centering--will change feeling of lines.
  • Cutting always good.
  • Language--what is the ratio of complexity to clarity. Think about necessity. Deliberately making it more difficult and I can be fine with that if it has a purpose--re-seeing?
  • Maybe un-sentencing would help.
  • This sounds funny.
  • A little falling off towards the end where earlier there's all this great, various stuff. Think about order.
  • Think about line breaks to shake up usual way of reading and emphasizing words.
  • Doesn't hang together in interesting or directive way like what follows.
  • Not clear to me why this enters the poem.
  • This is a great quote but it seems sassier than the poem itself.
  • Think about order--clusters of idea/messages.
  • Why so many commas?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Transcribed from a Lake House (but not there now)

Definitely want to work on the poem but now my methods change. Notes, notes, notes, some looking up, then typing into the computer the fits and shreds, firming up the lines, moving things about.

I'd like to make an idea list. It's 7:03 and I have a strong cup of coffee. A list for small places in Cleveland which interests me as a series, an approach. So far 1. Daddy's car 2. The Brick 3. alley by Euclid 4. WW utility room 5. censer 6. Amana freezer 7. BSS parking lot.

What else might qualify in strange ways (I'm crossing the numbers off so things don't have to come out straight):
  • Miss Roger's piano room
  • the pool at Rocking Chair Cove
  • the cottages after I grew up
  • the wine bottle when I pushed down the cork
  • the pothole where I got that flat tire
  • the stuffed veal breast
  • the hollow chocolate egg of confetti
  • could I try the rubber boots again
  • the library on Mapledale
  • or maybe a particular book--The Dandelion Cottage with its wallpaper scrap idea of making a home
  • the pyrex coffee pot--thinking about it like a movie with repeated sloshings gurgle gurgle swamp swish empty
  • the surrey
  • the secret place behind our thin suburban woods
  • Alvie's 
  • the little park and Bob's Big Boy while we waited for Katie

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.