The end of one practice…

(Originally posted on Feb. 20, 2019. My apologies that comments were lost.)

Yesterday was the last day of my Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion practice. The idea was to sit down each day—at my desk, at the gym, on the bus, wherever—read a poem from Lucie’s book, choose a line, a fragment, an image, and write from or in response to it. I started on October 22. I did not show up daily, but I did show up. Yesterday was poem 65. And then a sadness that it was done.

Some of these drafts might become poems. A couple of them already have. One is in active revision. And many are pressed in the pages of my notebook. I’m hoping to get back to them, read and see which ones, or whether any, still ignite some spark worth nurturing.

What did I learn? This worked well for me. Each time, I’d write something. Even if I knew it wasn’t going to turn into anything else, I was writing. Even better, it gave me a chance to sit in active conversation with Brock-Broido’s poems again. My goal had been to choose not just compelling images but those that were difficult or uncomfortable—not the kinds of things that might naturally show up in my poems anyway. And that was the biggest challenge, to tug away from comfort’s gravity.

The end of one practice…the beginning of another.

I want to keep the momentum, to keep the practice going. And in this next round, I want to complicate the challenge, shift the choice by writing only from the first line, and then choosing 10 words to incorporate. But to further avoid bias, the word choices need to follow a pattern—like the first word of the first 10 lines, or the last word, or the first and last words of each stanza. I haven’t tried that kind of constraint before. And what if I get a bunch of articles or prepositions? It’s a learn-as-you-go choose-your-own-adventure, with a minimum of choosing. This morning, I took a new book off the shelf and started with the first poem. It did not go well in terms of stunning surprises, but it did go well in that I showed up. I practiced.

I would also benefit from getting into a revision practice, as I did in Poetry Month 2015. Harder, without that daily thrill of newness, but probably a better strategy for completing my thesis.

How about you? Have you been working or playing a poetry practice this year, or any other kind of practice?

Stuff to share: rejection, therapy, poetry, play

Driving to and from the tasting room last weekend, I heard things that got me thinking and got me happy, and I wanted to share them with you.

First, I heard a TED Radio Hour segment about rejection therapy, which made me think of the “100 rejections a year” goal. From a poetry perspective, Jia Jiang’s rejection therapy was more like submitting–after all, he did get quite a few acceptances, even though he was trying, deliberately asking for things he had little chance of getting.

Thinking about rejection led me to think about failure–the Samuel Beckett quote but also another TED talk about learning science–or learning anything, or revising a poem! although Mark Rober doesn’t mention that. Rober does point out that when something is hard, or we don’t get it (or, extrapolating, we get rejected), it’s easy to think we just aren’t good at it. Then he compares this despair (my word) with playing video games. Full disclosure: I’m not a gamer unless you count computer spider solitaire, but I’m willing to go with this. When you crash or die the first time in a video game, you don’t give up. Instead, you evaluate what you could do differently the next time, and you try again. Failure as challenge.

As I sit down to continue revising poems, I’m trying to imagine that joy of exploration, of trying and trying and trying just to see what might work better.

But first, in closing, I want to share the most inspirational piece I heard, bringing together failure as not failure, failure as play, some cool lyrical moves and turns and returns, and above all, a great generosity of joy: Amanda Palmer’s Ukulele Anthem. Give it a listen. And go play!

Pick your practice

My piano teacher used to say that perfect practice makes perfect. No pressure. When my daughter speaks of yoga practice or meditation practice, I think of showing up, arriving with your full self. And isn’t that what we want to do when we write? Show up to the page with our whole selves and create something that we’ll be able to believe is worth sharing?

Speaking for myself, it ain’t easy.

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Today is day fifty. Only fifteen more poems in the book, and then it will be time for a new practice. I don’t think it needs to be grand or burdensome. It could be writing one sentence or one list of words. It could take ten minutes, or five. It could be reading one poem—and over at The Poetry Department, you can find an impressive list of daily and weekly reading resources.

What is your practice? Or what would it be, and how can you make that happen?

Some resistance is futile

On his blog, Steven Pressfield has been talking about artistic resistance—those times when we get some feedback and, feeling crushed, discard all comments and suggestions. He compares that resistance to the stages of grief (shock, denial, etc., through acceptance). He also discusses how harmful it can be to resist and reject the feedback.

Read the whole post, but briefly he talks about how important it is to work through our reaction so that we can truly take in that feedback—step back and hear it objectively, look at our manuscripts and see how those comments might affect it.

This works well if you have a trusted reader (he does). But what if you’re receiving those comments from an editor or teacher you don’t know well? What if they rewrite your poem to illustrate what they mean? For me, the rewrite is an especially tricky issue—the result might be brilliant, but what do I do with this, now that it doesn’t even feel like mine anymore?

My strategy: After I step back, take a break and get a little distance, I look for the underlying intent–what is the impulse behind the edits, how can I use it in my own voice? If I know what’s driving the suggestion, I can keep the conversation open, keep working on the poem, and learn new things in the process.

What are your strategies for hearing and using comments and suggestions?

By the water, on the page

It was time for our annual trip to Lummi Island. This year, celebrating our 20th anniversary! Because of various schedule changes, we were a few weeks early, and so we stayed down the road from our usual cottage, but we still could see the Sound and islands and, in the hazy distance, Canada.

puget sound and islands

I don’t know what it is about wide water and sky that feeds me, rejuvenates me, but I’m grateful for that feeling—and for it lasting even through the drive down I-5 back home.

Deer and bunnies visited the yard. Eagles circled the snag to the north. We spent time with our friends from the Artisan Wine Gallery on the island, and we enjoyed a phenomenal meal—a meal as a dream—at the Willows. We both kept stopping to say, “Wow, we are lucky to get to come here every year.”

Today, I’m not linking to a poem, but I do have a poem in the upcoming issue of Carve Magazine. In just about every way, the poem is the opposite of the post above, and I wondered about trying to fit both things in—but that’s life, right? Things don’t fit. Our pasts and presents collide. And that’s who we are. If you get a chance, check out the quick Q & A on their blog.