Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Concerning Poetry - Writing Process Chain Letter


This week (I hope I’m not too late!) my good friend Sophie Grimes invited me to try this blog post (hello, blogosphere, I’ve [kinda] missed you!). It’s a chain letter of sorts, and I almost never spend any time considering the impetus of my own writing, so I said yes. I teach in 45 minutes, so this will be an exercise in time management (another of my non-strengths).


Sophie and I were poetry mates in Boston University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. We have very much stayed in touch, and Sophie is going to do great things with her work. My favorite memoryamong so manywith Sophie is when I dropped by her grandparent’s plum farm/homestead in Iowa (Iowa, right, Sophie?) on one of my Boise-to-Boston road trips. It was a bit of a spur of the moment, but Sophie was an amazing host. She introduced me to her friends, made me macaroni and cheese, and we went swimming in the man-made lake down the hill. As I was leaving she handed me a heavy paper bag and said, "I am going to give you plums, because that is what poet friends do." Needless to say, the plums were delicious and I wrote a poem about that day.


"Enough with the preliminaries and now on to the main event!" Hades, in Disney’s Hercules


WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
Man alive, what am I not working on? Composition has never been the difficult part of poetry in my case. During the MFA program, and once or thrice afterward, I created what I very creatively call "Poem-a-day February)because, let’s face it, if you’re going to write a poem a day for a month February is the month of choice. Anyways, once I got used to that I decided that I’m insane, so I dubbed this year "Poem-a-day 2014." I’m a few days behind (I play catch up sometimes), but so far I’ve done it. Which puts me at something like 250+ poems this year. Which is insanity. However, according to my personalized law of poetic averages, that means about 67 of them are good.


If you think that’s a commitment, sit ye down. In addition to Poem-a-day 2014, I’m chipping away at my haiku blog, Ten Thousand Haiku. I started the project a few years ago when one of my three part-time jobs was translating medical websites. For whatever reason, I got a corner office with a view, and I had been watching fall turn to winter and winter continue being hell on earth. So I decided to start a project where I would write 10,000 haiku in as many days. I’ll do the math for you: 27 years and 3 monthsa few months longer than how old I was when I started. I keep most of the rules of haiku written in English (5-7-5 syllable count, seasonal word, conflicting but congruent images, etc.) and jot them down in my phone or on the back of my hand until I can get them on the blog. It’s been an amazing experience so far and I’m almost to 1,000 haiku. The project keeps me adept in my "seeing" of the world, and it makes me feel like I’m doing something poetic when I’m not writing as much as I’d like to (which, this year, is not the case, I suppose).


On top of the insane amount of composition, I’m also working on revising my first book-length manuscript, applying to contests when money allows, and reading as much as I can for ideas.


HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHER WRITERS OF THIS GENRE?
This question contributes to the reasons I never consider my own poetry. Good golly. I’m assuming we’re talking the genre of poetry, in which case I don’t know that it does differ from other writers. I’m for sure not Alan Ginsberg (thankfully), but I also imitate so much, both consciously and subconsciously, that it’s difficult to separate myself. So I will dodge the question a bit and tell you poets that I do write like. I’ll narrow it to three: David Ferry, Lance Larsen, and Lawrence Raab. These three, besides being white dudes like me, are the poets who have written work that I have been trying to write. In Ferry’s case, his poem "October," (link is safe, you can click it) from his incredible collection Bewilderment, was the finished version of a poem I had started months before his book came out. And I wasn’t even disappointed. I was just amazed. My work differs from David’s work in that my work is entirely inferior. Given, he’s been writing for three times longer than I’ve been alive and I was blessed to take a course from him at BU, but still. So much to shoot for. As for the other two, and other poets (I’m looking at you, Mary Ruefle), my work differs from theirs in that it is my own. I feel that I have a very valid take on the worldor at least present a valid view of the worldand I spend a lot of time simply writing like myself (also not different from other writers). I’m going to start babbling, so I’ll say this: whether or not others feel my work differs from that of other writers, my work is informed by a reverence for the natural world. This place we live fascinates the daylights out of me, and I try to present that fascination in my poetry. Reverence for the commonplace. Now there’s a title.


WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?
I think I accidentally just answered this question. At least partially. Sophie was right on in her answer: I can’t do anything else. I’ve tried all sorts of writing, but I can’t produce anything longer than a poem. For a long time I saw that as a limitation, but I’m starting to come around to the fact that it is perfectly fine to have a niche. Thinking a bit longer about it, I think I write what I do because I have a chip on my shoulder. I find value in what I create and I couldn’t care less if others find value in it (yeah right, please publish meeeeee!). I want to carve my own space into the world of creative writing, and poetry is the best way I know how to do so. It’s what I want to write. I’ve often told people that I don’t have the patience for fiction. This is true, but I also don’t think like a fiction writer. I don’t want to develop themes and meaning and build characters; I want to punch people in the gut with things that they should have seen in the first place. When I started writing poetry, the audience mattered to me. If the poem wasn’t funny and people didn’t laugh then I was doing something wrong. My wonderful mentor at BYU, Susan Howe, and the MFA program at BU pulled me out of that rut (thank you) and poetry has become about me and the moment. I write what I do because that’s what comes out when I set pen to paper. Poetry is a much more immediate medium than other types of writing, and that appeals to me immensely.


HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
First facetious thought to come to mind: it doesn’t. My writing process is all over the place, and as soon as I tell you what it is I’ll realize I was lying. So I’ll answer by saying that it depends on the conditions. Regardless of what is happening, I have to take a time out and sit down to write a poem. This becomes difficult when I come up with an idea in the real worldwhen I’m teaching, right before bed, the second I lose my pen, etc.). I write by hand and use the computer. Both appeal to me for different reasons. Writing by hand keeps me in the moment and allows me to pace myself and see the poem unfolding before it does (I write much slower than I think). When I’m on the computer, I can let the ideas flow, with the added bonus of revising as I go. I’m not one for revision, so the computer really works well for me in that way (anecdotal comparison: another classmate of ours, Dan Kraines, would hand us poem draft number 11 or 12 in workshop. I once made it to poem draft 5 and I thought I was gonna die.).


My ideas usually come from outside sources. I will do something innocentsomething like hearing a sentence, reading a line of poetry, or attending a readingand a line or image will pop into my head. Sometimes I can build around it, but generally I wait until I have a few of these ideas or blurbs on paper and try to build connections between them. This simplifies the process for me, particularly because I write short poems. I’m also super big on titles (slight apologies for the non sequitur), and I like my titles to be one word long if I can help it. So I usually start with a blank piece of paper and write "Poem" at the top. When the poem is finished and given a once-over, I title it as best I can. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it, I simply like the way it works for and against the poem (for an idea of what I’m going for, see Louise Glück’s poem "Happiness."


Many, many thanks to Sophie for this prompt. It’s been too long since I blogged, and I now a bit more about myself and her. Bonus. Time is up, so I’m going to invite my other favorite classmate from BU (we’ll keep it in the family), Lisa Hiton, to write the next installment of this writing process chain letter. Lisa is probably the most insightful person close to my age when it comes to considering and identifying what makes a poem click and how to create meaning. I really want to hear what she has to say, not to mention how she says it. In the mean time, you can find her on her legit website (makin' me jealous).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project - Poems 16–20

Poem 16


Gradient
  
A storm petrel flutters
over choppy water, flicking
drops into the sky
that touch the waves
any number of places
invisible in this wind.
All fear and softness,
the bird’s body gives
muscle a rest, expanding,
bracing its hollow bones
against the moving air
hoping, if birds hope,
land of any type
makes its way through
the shifting horizon, arriving
sooner than tomorrow’s dark.
I want to yell
into the coastal fog,
tell the storm petrel
it is not much
better here on shore:
turn back, the mindless
mist remains in spite
of all our striving.
But the wind sweeps
all my warnings out
to sea, performs again
the ritual ripping away
it knows so well.
Almost extinct, the bird
feels things inside it
tilt now, almost tumbling
out of their places.
This is the moment
I start walking again
farther into something not
water and not rock.
The storm petrel cries
or sings a note.
It punctures, hovers, fails.

_____________________

Poem 17


Density

It is not the opening of eyes but the opening of blinds
to snow that starts this day. I roll over, quietly naming
things not in this room: carpet, food, a body’s rearranging
of sheets in a different direction than that I rolled.

Heat is held back by the door, an inch of cold hovering
inside the threshold. I reach for the handle, the only exit
emptying into another inside. It turns the same way
as always, it barely fits the curve of my hand, quietly

holding in or holding out, I do not know which.
Twist and pull—the balancing begins: one air curdling
into another, wood floor catching light in new angles,
something quietly moving that is not me. Not even close.

___________________________________________

Poem 18


Make it Sunday

I need not describe it
in terms of loneliness. It is a depth,
approximate at best, a center
housed in a body defined
in relation to foreign things.

_________________________

Poem 19


Paraselene

A slope rises to the horizon, only a few inches from my face
if this were a painting. I would say that the snow glitters
but snow only covers, and it’s a flimsy dusting at that.
I want to name the snow, to call it you because it is
cold—it is a cliché falling from the sky, barely
less obvious than the moon, which has itself
changed shapes since last night. On the road
I can see the aftermath of wind silhouetted
against the asphalt: the shadows of things
more substantial than they themselves.
Out there almost no headway awaits.
Test your weight. The surface holds
a moment, then splits: a tilted body
sinks, stops, steps again knowing
each future footfall sinks anew.
I could turn back to see all
the hollow proofs of flight,
but all the sunken scars
I leave this landscape
point up the slope
to me, a traveler
who feels, but
does not hear
the quiet
filling.

___________________________________

Poem 20


Utterance
                 —For Maggie

May the wall crack

your back. May retreat

find you screaming

without artifice,

without guile.

This is the art of sacrifice:

not a hole—a shift

in the heart, a pulling

toward something

outside

the body, an animal weight

jamming the chest, breath

the only struggle. That other

blood-filled body

pulses just like yours.

May you be the foreign object

splintered into wood.

May your skin break.

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project - Poems 11–15

Poem 11


[Under Revision]
_____________________________________

Poem 12


Winter Morning Walk

The wind biting
one side of cars,
every cross street
pushing it under
your coat, swirling
around the torso,
up through the arms.
Bad circulation pilfers
blood from your fingers
sooner than last season.
This must be
getting old. Plod
uphill, the bus stop
funnels the wind chill
in either direction.
Cold, inescapable cold
tightens the skin:
you know right where
your keys are. Clenching,
unclenching hands,
lowering the chin
to breathe the warm air
out, hang the wetness
leaving the body,
a promise of more
cold to come
but not now. Now
there is waiting.
This is not new.
Lately the letters
do not return
in the same month
you sent them,
not even months
that end in embers.
At this point
you could not
lick the stamp for fear
it will not stick.
But this is not
the hard part;
the hard part is seeing
soil harden, glass snap,
water turning white
and cracking underfoot,
a type and shadow
for skin, your skin.

_____________________

Poem 13


Blight

Snowflakes fall
through the night-colored windows
into and out of sight,
unaffecting from your looking place
where you raise your eyes,
lowering them again into so many words,
symbols of senseless things
never caught at the end of a tongue,
never melted in breath,
their comings and goings unknown
to the world’s insides.

________________________________

Poem 14


Setting

This evening holds nothing extraordinary. Not even the chives in my soup
are restless. All the major religions have heads on their shoulders again
and the pilot lights to all my old flames have gone out the open window.
I even had time to read today—a book, even. Imagine reading a book.

I met the author in college, a friend of a friend. She was older. Forty-something
pages into not being able to put her down, I read a letter she had chopped
into lines. It set me somewhere between spotting her name on a poster and peeking
through the blinds when I knew she’d be naked. Those hormones have ebbed,

mostly. She tells me about the moon: we are forlorn, she says, thanks to her place
in the sky, drawn to her majesty precisely because we can see it. There is no reflection
not conceding its surface to her at some angle. I was thinking about her tonight, wondering
which of my windows she’s chosen to smear as the soup steams itself back to sleep.


________________________________________________________________

Poem 15


Visible

A nearly full moon
Layers of ice under snow
Your breath in the air

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project - Poems 6–10

I am floored at the wonderful response I've gotten for this project. I've already got enough donations and pledges to be over my goal, so a huge thanks to everyone who has my back. Seriously.

I've decided to put the poems on this blog every five days, so here are poems 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. If you want to see them as they come up, you can still see each one on the day it is written by clicking here and scrolling down.

~

Poem 6


Waking

In the second dream, a bird pilfers
all of the scraps from my desk.
None of the typing ceases or slows.
Unfamiliar but comfortable, this place
takes its grayness for granted, even outside
the rooftops nearly disappear
in fog. Dropping into half-veiled places,
chirping once, the bird only wants to be
found. Another someone supplanted
here takes notice, moving backward
despite the nature of walls (useless:
the sky is right there) remaining the same.
The bird and the other someone are quiet
now. It is time. That something moving
inside the pillow is your heart
keeping cadence, thick like a hollow bone.


_______________________________________

Poem 7


Flight

Rolling over, a train
in motion, silence:
these are all the ways I move
away from you.

________________________________

Poem 8


Windburn

Received unwillingly, a warmness under
skin confuses the body. Closed

eyes veil the room: you have not left,
no, the place has shifted in neglect.


Do not speak to me of want.
Every rearranging understands itself

in relation to the floor, window lit
on certain mornings. A man passes


my house, a grocery bag in tow.
He passes every day, the same burden

in his fingers. There is something
he does not wish to carry into night


let alone tomorrow. You are enough
whatever it is you want for today

for both of us. You can take these words
for granted, if you wish.


I will catch the singeing scraps,
impaling every one, a sapling.

___________________________________

Poem 9


Splintered Things

We become these things. Or rather,
we turn these things to pulp, ingest them
in some form or another, and carry on.

Never mind this piece of paper
spent years rooted among its cousins
in a forest or part of a forest that endured

so many fires and the exploding cold
only an arid winter understands,
the closest it ever came to touching

the other trees (not counting wind)
being when squirrel leapt from its neighbor,
bending its branch with the unfamiliar

weight of a body built for climbing.
Never mind that at all. It is nothing
like grasping a hoarfrosted fencepost

hoping what pours forth is not blood.

___________________________________

Poem 10


Revision

            —for Anie

the knife in position
the body’s division
the mind’s indecision

eyes shadowed, masks

the body’s rescission
the mind’s imposition
the knife in decision

bleeder

the mind’s indecision
the knife in precision
the body’s derision

incision, excision, suture, and out


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (Scroll Down for the First 5 Poems)

Hi Kids,

I've just started a month long poetry marathon called the Tupelo Press 30/30 project. I’m going to write a new poem every day in December and all of them will appear on the project website (you can see my face here and find the poems somewhere in here [or just scroll down in this post]).

The project is also a fundraiser to help Tupelo Press do what they do (printing interesting books, defending the cause of poetry, validating my existence, etc.), so I made a goal to raise $400 through the course of the month.

I hate, hate, hate asking for money, so to ease my conscience a bit I'm offering a bit of a payback system for anybody who wants to help:

  • A $15 donation gets you a poem dedication (I'll write "For ______" at the beginning of the poem).
  • A $20 donation will get you a poem written about you or the subject of your choosing.
  • A $35 donation will get you the above, plus I will write and send you your own poem (a new one that won't appear on the site).
  • A $50 donation will get you the above, plus a kiss, and I will write the new poem on fancy paper and mail it to you so you can keep it forever (Christmas presents, people), AND I will send you a hand made chapbook of all 31 poems when I finish.
  • A $99 donation gets you all of the above and 9 books of your choosing from Tupelo Press.
If you want to do one of these ^ please let me know and I will write you down. First come, first served.
~

There are three ways to donate:

1 - Subscribe to Tupelo Press by going HERE, filling everything out, and remembering to put my name in the "comments" field.
  • You get 9 books for $99. You can choose the 2013 series, another year's series, or just handpick 9 books that sound good to you.
2 - Complete the Tupelo Press Donation Form by going HERE, filling everything out, and remembering to put my name in the "honor" field.
  • You can choose the amount (be sure to tell me if you're over $15 so I can give you your reward) and submit it.
3 - Donate Using PayPal by going HERE, clicking on the orange link that says "Quick Donation via PayPal," and remembering to put my name in the "message" field.
  • Yay.
You can get a tax receipt for items 2 & 3 (not 1, since you get 9 books) by providing your mailing address when you donate.

~

Please don't feel any pressure whatsoever to donate. If nothing else, just follow the poems and enjoy your December.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Poem 1


December

Not long ago, the wind was full
of things: leaves mostly, occasionally
a plastic bag. It filled them
the way wind does, imitating water  

and, some nights, pausing

to consider itself, accidentally
sharing with the ground
all the once wind-filled things.

Morning makes its way
through my skeleton, the wind blows
what’s left of the unseen sunrise
into my unprotected eyes.
Keep your finality, I can still see
through you and into the future.
______________________________________________
Poem 2


Cover

     —For Chellee


A song that is not your own
picks its way through a crowd

almost shrouded at the edge of one
fire’s reach. The outdoor amphitheater
lends itself to leaning forward,
a patient strumming at the tipping point.
This is all of us: landlocked.
Here the boundaries are built of dirt,
there are two tomorrows, stars
in their normal places and farther
downhill and through the trees
more stars bounce off the lake.
Between verses I remember
you are left handed: some would say
your guitar is strung backward
but your fingers fit the chord
without a first glance, the way the blind read
braille, another language we don’t speak.
A song is no religion, but close
enough to soften rocks
or at least coax them from the water
you have chosen for your backdrop.
Silence keeps the secret of itself
in the tree line. The fire burns.
If we waited long enough
you could show us the size of darkness.

_________________________________________

Poem 3


Bound

The crosswalk lines, newly painted
in a warmer month, dissolve.
That is no way to say it
but to say decay is too much
against the shadows stretching
into what was once an afternoon.
I am the only quiet thing
left in this city. I want to sleep
the way I always sleep: curled
away from nothing or something
without a heartbeat. Not now.
Around the corner a house (not yellow
enough to be yellow, too yellow
to call it cream) sits. That is all.
It sits. On the other side of a fence
two tennis nets sag, the weight of color
lifted long ago, the way it leaves
the beards of young men and every tree
that has not learned of permanence
through release. I am nearly home.
There, where the yard starts, movement
pried my gaze from the concrete once:
I thought it might have been a bird
choosing not to fly away in fear.
It was a leaf, something heavier
holding it down just enough, too much.

___________________________________________
 
Poem 4, which contains a secret message.


I’ll Call You Back

                    —For Danielle (You asked for it.)

 Certain duties have me
Restrained for the time being.
After dinner I was forced to
Poop in someone else’s house.

Ordinarily, I’d stay on the line, but
Ring me in fifteen?

Going here is all off. I’m impeded,
Every side an obstacle: a crotch-encroaching sink,
Toilet paper disorientation, texts.

Oh, my feet have fallen asleep
Five minutes sooner than normal.
Fear settles in. Is someone outside?

That was a footstep. They know I’m here.
Hum and haw, run the water, pray it doesn’t
Echo.

Press forward, push onward, forget
Or repress the phone-sized splash in my panic:
The door isn’t locked.

_______________________________________

Poem 5, whose title has two meanings.


Syncope

In darkness I feel the human desire
to diagram the heart, an artist’s
rendering, beautiful and incomplete
enough to label the ruptures without
naming them. It is possible
to feel guilty for being wronged. Try
catharsis in the old sense of the word:
sketch the necks of geese.
I stole that line from a gallery—
it fled an open mouth, I found it
in the stealing place. I wrote it down.
When I kneel at my bed at night
I do not ask for justice. Justice hovers
out of focus, out of sight.

_________________________________