Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Poem help

I've worked on this poem and shown it to poetry group friends and worked on it some more, and still I feel like it is not there yet. I know I'm too close to it—and I want this poem to be perfect.

I thought that maybe I could ask for some help on this weblog. Any thoughts? I'm open to suggestions.

Still You Linger

Sharp and dry, wind scuffs stubble,
each mown blade rubbed stiff.
If ghosts walk such furrowed fields,
I see you there, as tall as summer.

I never knew you in this east,
only on the ocean side
where rain mists down to the dirt,
pools in puddles, streams to sea.

The week you died, all currents drove north,
sought the sound’s cold mouth.
Looking west, I saw you in spruce and sky,
in skeins of shadowed water.

Still you linger, a trick of light—
A stranger crossing the street,
memories as thick as crows.

I see you in a giant sky,
wide gyre of red-winged hawk,
and strain to hear the wheat’s voice—
what stays and stays.

Tears are not enough.
Salt will not till the ground.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A myth that fits

We're all still blissing out on cat love, along with the often frenetic LIFE WITH KITTEN. And it's Daniel's seventeenth birthday today. And Claire had freshman high school orientation today. So life other than writing is front and center.

That said, I'm still working on that next direction, and I wanted to ground it in a myth or story—a known myth or story. But I don't know which one, and there is a lot of information to sift through.

I started with a high-level look at the Greeks. I could move on to the Romans, but do they have any additional stories (or is it just that the names have changed)?

Where to next? Those wild Etruscans? (Did they have a myth system? Doesn't everyone?) The Norse? (No one leaps to mind there, but it's been a while.)

I'm wishing I had a reverse directory ("I need a goddess who…").

In the meantime, I added a few more poems to the sofa, including a poem that I wrote after the 2006 Sago mining disaster in West Virginia.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Yesterday, I finished reading Vita Nova by Glück and started to read A Sweetness Rising by Roberta Spear. The juxtaposition of the two set off a little spark and gave me my next idea.

In an earlier post on Corn Shake, Ms. Nez spoke of having a direction (actually, I think she said DIRECTION!). I love that idea. I usually think in terms of a series or a theme—each of which seems a little more buttoned down or sewn up.

The concept of a direction seems more open and encompassing. It can broaden and include more, similar to the different angles or voices in Glück's The Wild Iris and even similar to what I was trying to accomplish in my manuscript The Body Makes a Plot.

So I'm excited! The work I'm thinking of will be related in subtext I think to the Camargue poems but more personal, more rooted in my own experience. Now I just want to let it wander, explore it, play with it the way our new kitten plays with his favorite toy. I'm just happy to have my next direction.

I think I've asked this before, but I'll risk repetition: How do you approach a new project? How do you start?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kitty countdown!

This afternoon, a new family member will join our household. In some ways, it's bittersweet. In all the other ways, it's very exciting!

Poems in a series

I've been reading through more of Louise Glück's work, first Ararat, then The Wild Iris, Meadowlands, and now I'm starting Vita Nova. I admit I'm not reading as closely or carefully as I would like—that's a skill I'm still trying to build.

But I think I shall have to come back to The Wild Iris—even more than the others, it begs multiple readings. I'm intrigued with what she has done—and the way that she has extended it to a full-length book.

First, she has multiple conversations and angles going on, all focused around a central theme (Eden). In the book (if I'm reading this right), plants address people, and people address each other, and the sky addresses God. Sometimes, God (if I'm reading this right) addresses the reader, or the people. Interleaved between these poems are vignettes between members of Glück's family, as well as several poems titled "Matins" and several more titled "Vespers." At the same time, the book moves through the year—through spring and summer to Autumn.

I've struggled with writing full-length works. In my own one full-length manuscript, I have a collection of poems about Pandora, and then other poems mixed in, but they relate more in tone or in general idea (middle age!) than in actual theme. Chapbooks are a more natural length for me, and I'm impressed with the focus that Glück maintains, especially in this book.

I admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with Glück's voice (and here maybe I'm mixing in impressions from Meadowlands). Her poems are taut, or fraught, with a ferocious longing, all contained in an intellectual discourse. Generally, I prefer a little less discourse and more imagery. (Startle me!) But I'm intrigued and continue to believe that this work has much to teach me.

Have you written a full-length manuscript completely centered on one theme? How did you maintain the theme for that many poems without losing energy or focus? How did you vary the poems, vary the theme without losing it?

P.S. In this morning's Seattle P.I.: a nice write-up of Open Books.

Monday, August 20, 2007

When more is more?

(Warning: potential whine)

Today I put a couple more poems on the sofa website, and I was thinking about work and how to write more and more deeply. Start with more, because I suspect I'm not working nearly long enough or hard enough? On Bemsha Swing, the current recommendation is two hours a day (I'm trying to start with 30 minutes and that doesn't include any weblog activity or even reading poems).

But will sheer time do it? (I'm having my doubts about that.)

If I write more, I'm sure my writing will improve—eventually, at least a little. But that brings up two questions:

Isn't it about more than time?

But if more time will do the magic trick, why am I not spending more time writing? Why am I letting myself and my work and my dream down?

I already harbor a suspicion that I didn't put enough effort into my fleeting modern dance career, and I've tried to promise myself that I won't make that mistake again. But the distractions run, rampant.

A few years ago, I even tried to write a poem about it.

How do you stay focused? How do you persist with your efforts and your best efforts (and still have time to make dinner)?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More draft disorganization

I thought that I was done with the Camargue poems—that the series was complete. Then, this morning, I stumbled on three more free writes that seem worth exploring.

More work.

(Better than no work.)

Every morning—okay, that's optimistic. Most days, I free write for two minutes or five minutes or longer if I have the time and the thread going. A day or more later, I may go back and see whether that bit of writing holds potential for a poem. Or I may get distracted and forget—which is what happed with these three starts.

How do you follow your ideas? How do you organize your work?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Draft chaos

Little thoughts, ideas all day. Finally, a chance to write them down.


I've finished my kid-lit fiction binge (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Girls in Pants). This morning, I got back to my poetry-only program, reading Louise Gluck and Judith Skillman on the bus. It's amazing how inspired I was by the time I arrived in Redmond. I was ready to write all day. Instead, I went to work.

But I got to have breakfast. (It's a great motivator.)


Jamie often tells me, "Go with your strengths." This usually refers to worrying about something, which certainly is my strong suit. But I've given a lot of thought to what I'm good at—or at least what I do better than anything else:

Eating and writing.

I'm also a pretty competent cook, because it's a handy skill if you want to eat.

Why don't I write more about food? I'm not a food writer or a restaurant critic—but why don't I write more poems about food? After all, maybe that's my passion.



Today, while doing research for my editing job, I found two new websites:

  • Word Count Journal
    From their website: Word count journal is a new blog format where you write one word your first day, two words the second, three words the third, etc. By the end of a non-leap year you'll have written a total of 66,795 words, more words than most novels.

    Am I just the last person to know about this?

  • Watermark
    a poet's notebook


And now: Draft chaos

I'm trying to pull together all my Camargue poems in their various states of completion and get them all to the same state of completion.

Even though I do most of my writing on the computer now, the key versions are those with the revisions on them—the notes and suggestions of my poet friends. Those important pieces of paper seem to land in various stacks even though I have a divided folder and very good intentions.

I think I've managed to gather the Camargue poems (although the work is not done and I realized today that I don't have a title, not even a working title).

How do you keep track of your drafts?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Back home

Here is the quick summary of my California roadtrip:

Poems written: None
Furniture sold: None
Caltrain rides: 2
Fun in the sun in Los Gatos: Tons
Pounds gained: 5
Hours in the truck: About 36
Hours that I drove the truck: 2 1/2
Rejections received: 1

I don't know why, but every time I leave town, I count up the number of mail days that I'm gone and anticipate all the poetry mail that I'm going to get. Why would more mail (acceptances or otherwise) arrive just because I'm not here? Silly me.

Back to real world, real life. Time to lose some weight and write some poems!

P.S. A few new Italy and France poems are on the sofa.

Friday, August 10, 2007

It ain't Italy...

but I think these are olive trees.

I do enjoy the meditative state that a roadtrip can put me in. But I always think it will open my mind to new places (creative states as well as the changing landscape). This time, I even kept my notebook on my lap. But while we traveled down I-5, my thoughts frittered around mundane daydreams. I even tried nudging myself in a direction I thought might be more productive. No luck.

How do you nudge a meditative state (or something like a meditative state)? How do you get the most creative exploration in your traveling time?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Traveling light

I have one small rolling suitcase, and it's pretty full, plus one gym bag, which is fuller than I planned, and my usual dowdy purse and a fleece jacket and a Panama hat in a hat box.

I have one notebook for free writes and another notebook for revisions (as though I might work), but I have only one chapbook of poems and one (short, kid-lit, halfway finished already) novel to read.

What was I thinking?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Plot trauma

I have an addiction
to reading fiction…

I spent a large chunk of the weekend reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. How large? Think about how thick that book is.

Along about page 650, I was having a really hard time putting it down, and I started getting testy.

"No, I need to read it now! I have to find out what happens."

Now I am reading Girls in Pants, the Third Summer of the Sisterhood—another novel, another kids' book. (When I was a kid, I plunged into summer reading. Now, as a parent, I seem to be reading the bidding of my kids. My mandatory list...)

But after my long poetry-only reading period, I was a bit startled at how a good narrative, a fast-moving plot, could wrap me around its dramatic little finger.

Can poetry be a page turner? Or should it even be?


Without any plot worthy of Machiavelli or the Medicis, I've updated the sofa with some poems inspired by visits to Italy and France.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

From Conversations about Creativity, in an interview with Kim Addonizio:

"A feeling of spaciousness is crucial. Ideas come from reading, experiences, TV, looking at art, dreams, eavesdropping. Living in as many directions as possible."

More where that came from.

8 facts/habits

This came from Kelli's blog.

Players list 8 facts/habits about themselves.

Here are mine:

  1. I am a morning person, and I tend to get my best writing ideas then even if I don't have time to write them down. (Morning could mean 3:00 in the morning, and I rarely turn on the light and start writing then—even though I'll be kept awake longer by the idea inside my head.)

  2. If it isn't morning, my best ideas come while I am moving—even sitting on a bus counts. Or riding a bike, walking, and sometimes even driving.

  3. I don't like driving, although sometimes I enjoy it in spite of myself. I also don't like to make left turns—when I'm driving.

  4. I eat Kashi Go-Lean Crunch cereal every day for breakfast—preferably with blueberries and a spoonful of Theo Cacao nibs.

  5. I am afraid of everything.
    Corollary: I worry about everything.

  6. I am tired of cooking when I have to, but I enjoy cooking when I don't have to.

  7. I like to ride my bike, especially when the hills are easy.

  8. I love em dashes.