Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writing Poetry--What Is Required?

If you were going to answer my question--which of course is not rhetorical--and you were itemizing little gobbets of need in your head, please don't trot out the word MUSE which concept I have always taken against. Is it a man/woman thing--the undertones of sexuality and gender predisposing me to find the idea that I need another being to create incredulous? Perhaps. I do not want or fear (the wrath of) a muse.

Listing necessities:
  • time--This is what I always want--time to think about this particular poem, but also to plan out a series or to just unload the heavy apple tree of my head. I can remember having time just how I wanted it for three weeks once when I received a grant and took off from teaching. Then my mother broke her arm and her leg. But I find there are all kinds of nooks and crannies of time that can be made useful, the necessity of writing squeezing into my life like toothpaste. Of course, would I write more/differently if I had leisure in which to find and pursue my projects?
  • space--It is very nice to have one's own office, even though my office at home functions best as a repository of papers I should go through and file or throw away. I like my wooden table that was once my kitchen table as the place where my poems congregate. But I have also written in the car, the bath, the bed, at the office (shh), in classrooms, in dreams, recently at the kitchen table at my writers retreat with people drifting in to find their first cup of coffee, at other people's poetry readings . . .
  • computer--I almost always start writing long hand, sometimes encouraging revision with longhand as well. I really like being able to physically cross out with my pencil or pen or draw arrows or flip back and forth to different pages in my notebook. But at a certain point, I need the computer to be able to tell how long a line looks, what words I can move up and down, how the shape feels, the white space, what would happen if I took out all the punctuation and so on. And of course now there's the electronic submission--heaven!
  • idea or the thing that natters at me--This is sometimes just a whisper, sometimes the cataloging voice that says you need that even though I have no idea why. I always try to pay attention. (This is not the muse talking to me.)
  • critical faculty--something that pushes in the beginning to better, newer ways of presenting, rejecting the usual, and then cleans up at the end--traffic cop and washerwoman.
  • books--The one thing I would do if I had more time would be to read more books, journals, science articles, essays, poems, novels to get a better view of the world, both literary and otherwise.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Retreat Island

I'm getting ready for a writers retreat on a nearby island. This is an annual event that has been going on since 1995. Lo, those many years ago, we found an old farmhouse to rent on Kelleys Island that had many bedrooms and beds. We wrote to our writing friends, and said what do you think? Should we start our own writing retreat--a come on Thursday, leave on Sunday kind of thing? They all said yes.

Now, every year we go in September or October when the weather is still good-ish (there was the year when the ferry scared me, the waves on the lake enormous and bleak) and the rental rate has come down. We all bring 2 gallons of drinking water and a roll of toilet paper and share the cooking at the dinner hour.

During the day we swim or walk or go into town to buy more coffee or find the hidden lakeshore path or visit the quarry. We sit in the kitchen and talk about what we're reading or what our students said or why we don't go to that yoga place anymore or how we have a new writing plan. Some of us use the time to finish projects or plan the coming writing months. Some of us sit in the sun until we're addled with happiness, frittering our time so that we return from the island restored.

In the evening, we read our work aloud. We have a schedule and a timetable that we stick to for discussion and an attentive audience that cares about language and movement and creative form. As with any writers group there's this interesting backlog attached to each work. I can remember S's train story or C's first chapter or T's piece about her mother. All of that rushes into the room behind the new work, demonstrating how far we have come.

This year we're celebrating someone's fabulous book deal (which has happened before). But we're also going to have a little memorial for one of our number who will not come again.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Group Reading--8 Writers/8 Minutes

One of my writers groups had a group reading last night at a local bookstore. This is something I put together when I heard that another group in Cleveland (all poets) had performed in this way. In my reading, eight writers read for 8 minutes each--4 read poems, 3 fiction, 1 essay. What was most interesting to me was style of reading aloud and what kind of cuts people made to long pieces of fiction. Also, maybe how something is different at a reading than at a workshop-like meeting. The impulse to edit is (mostly) pared away.

I went first which I usually like because then I can pay attention to the rest of the reading without nervous quaking or inner palpitations. I read fast last night (do I always?)--3 poems from my work series and a 4th poem that I characterized as cheerier. Long breaths, good voice, few errors. I felt like I was giving each word a little extra push of energy, kind of like using a sledgehammer, where it's not only the weight but the extra oomph your muscles give that create a bigger effect.

Although I had practiced, I regretted not doing so a little more since these were mostly newer poems, and none I'd read in this kind of setting. If I'd practiced I could have had more eye contact which I believe helps to put a reading over well, even though I here confess that I sometimes pretend eye contact when I'm really looking at the far wall or the back of a chair. I like my audience, but sometimes they can be distracting. For instance, I never look at my sister, if she's there, especially if there's some kind of family content to the poem.

It was a good reading, even though my part was brief because I immediately got into the zone, the performative place where you feel more alive, where your poems feel gestural, rock solid.