Writing poetry

Writing poetry–notes and questions

Yesterday, my son, daughter, and daughter-in-law took me for our second annual cross-country ski trip, driving up to Snoqualmie Pass and over to Hyak on the east side of the summit. (This is important, because it was raining on the west side.) A gray day, sometimes snowing, a little misty drizzle, and a whole lot of quiet. Plus fun—laughter and a few tumbles. Last year, we’d heard about some picnic tables just around the bend from where we’d stopped, and this year I was determined to find them—so determined that we skied at least half again as far. I felt good, although in the back of my mind I wondered about the trip back.

As I was working on the rhythm of the kick and glide and the poles, I started to think about that perfect moment rowing crew, when the boat is set, and everyone is in sync, every oar entering the water at the same time, everyone moving as one organism, how it is a blessed moment. I felt the same way while I was skiing—often awkwardly, but every once in a while, I would really feel the glide, feel the right muscles kicking in, my arms helping instead of flailing. For a moment. A blessing. And then another long stretch of trying to get it again—meanwhile, enjoying the snow and the trees, the general emptiness of the trail, the long ice-covered lake, stumps sticking up from the snow.

Then I thought about writing, how the flow—or getting into the zone—is the sweet spot, and one I don’t get to often, maybe less than when I’m on cross-country skis. But maybe if I keep writing, the 12-mile equivalent, I’ll have moments of flow, moments where I’m writing outside of time, outside of everything else, and it’s just the pen and me moving forward across the page. And I don’t have to worry about making it back to the car.

When do you feel flow in your writing and in your living?

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: , ,

I confess that these days I’ve been thinking about Christian Wiman’s poem “We Lived,” especially the stanza

I mean
to be mean

because that’s how I’ve been feeling—angry and afraid. In between phone calls to congressional offices I was writing snarky prose poems—with a jackal, a badger, a wolverine. It was therapeutic, cathartic—but it was all on the negative side of the equation.

Anger, as a kind of energy, has its place. It can do good things. But I’ve also been thinking about something Chad Sweeney said during a class at LiTFUSE—that just the act of working on a poem puts good energy into the world.

Walking along the creek near where I work, I realized that while I was putting good energy into the world while I was also whittling it away.

I had read Jamaica Baldwin’s fierce, powerful poem “Call Me By My Name.” To me, this poem is anger in a good way.

I had read about Kaveh Akbar tweeting poems by poets who come from the seven countries listed in the ban. To me, that is putting positive energy into the world.

I was thinking about another kind of mean, the arithmetic mean, where it’s between the extreme.

For now, I’ve abandoned those prose poems, and I’m trying to balance the bad with the good. This isn’t to say that it’s going to be all sweetness and light. It isn’t. Just an absence of snark.

And last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Ross Gay read poems and essayettes (or delights!) and talk about joy as a practice and poetry as an act of radical joy, or was it a radical act of joy? I’ll take either and both.

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: , ,

From today’s Advice to Writers:

“Creativity is inexhaustible. Experiment, play, throw away. Above all be confident enough about creativity to throw stuff out. If it isn’t working, don’t cut and paste – scrap it and begin again.” JEANETTE WINTERSON

I confess: I cut and paste. Mostly cut, although I’m trying to learn new ways to paste—or to move and transform. But start completely over? Maybe sometimes, but then I mine all versions to patch something together—and sometimes that works, or I think it does.

I play at pushing words around, play at line breaks, but that play could become pushing past my boundaries. And even though everything is saved on paper or on the computer, I still feel like I’m stepping off the cliff. I guess that’s the point—step of the cliff.

How about you? Do you experiment with a deleting there, inserting here? Or do you sweep it all away and start fresh? Does it depend on the project? Or the mood you’re in?

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags:

I still think about Benjamin Grossberg’s comment that, as I heard it, paraphrased, the writing reveals the subject (I’m always struggling with what to write about). This afternoon, an epiphany. It’s not that the writing, in one session (I’m so naïve) brings up the subject, but that the writing brings up more writing. Whatever is revealed comes to the surface over time.

So long, instant gratification.

After getting off work, I slipped out to the front porch and tried to write. It was mostly “meh” (if that’s dated already, you probably know what I mean anyway). But when I came back inside, I got two more ideas and something to research.

The act of writing—wait, I also read from the newest issue of POETRY before I even started, and I will say any day of the week that reading inspires writing—the act of writing might just be a warm-up, but it can get me to the real writing. It’s writing as throat-clearing. And when it doesn’t feel good, when it doesn’t jumpstart something wonderful, or something that can become wonderful, it might contain an image, a line, that will shine elsewhere, later.

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: ,

We hear it over and over again–rejection comes with the territory. Writers get tons of them—drawers, bathroom walls, whole houses of rejections, or now megabytes and gigabytes of rejections in email. We need to have thick skins.

True, but this is also true. Rejections still hurt–whether it’s like a pinprick, a stubbed toe, a hangnail, a paper cut, or a more serious gash, there is that bit of pain.

This year, I’ve been trying to submit much more than in the past, aiming for 100 submissions—or even 100 rejections. At the rate I’m going, the latter is close to the former. And if all those rejections are toughening up my hide, they still hurt. They accrue—the weight of it, of them. I start to wonder whether I should even bother, whether any of my work is going to get accepted or whether I’ve hit a slack patch, a garden of tiny knives.

This is to say that if you’re at any time feeling discouraged, I’m with you. I understand that it’s hard. Together, we’ll keep learning and growing, writing our best and sending it out. We can look at the poems that come back as perhaps commentary, perhaps a chance to make that work better. We can remind ourselves that this is not the end of the world. We can remind ourselves that the important thing really is the writing, the act, the practice. But we don’t have to pretend that it’s easy every day.

Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: ,

« Older entries