Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Draft Process: To Live in a Far Country

85º ~ dew point & heat indices climbing back, "feels like" 92º ~ adult robins are feeding one chick, the second clutch not nearly as prolific as the first, the sun is out in force, thunderstorms splatter the map by evenings these days, a lucky few receive the rain


Dear reader, I am thrumming with a new exercise and the draft that it produced. And here's the story:

Yesterday, I got the news that I could go to UCA and get my ID, receive my keys, and see my office. Whee. And so, I made the drive that will become my daily commute, roughly 40 minutes each way, with 30 of those minutes spent on the interstate. As I've been planning for this job transition, I've been thinking about podcasts for that commute and recently I subscribed to Transatlantic Poetry on Air. This is an amazing web-based reading series that I first heard about through one of the hosts: the poet Robert Peake. While I haven't managed to log in to any of the "live" readings, I was delighted to learn that the podcasts were now available and supported by iTunes. (Check them out!!)

So, yesterday, I hit the road and then remembered the podcasts (this detail is important). Since I hadn't chosen which episode to listen to before I started driving, I just went with whatever episode my finger hit, given that I was going 65 mph. Lesson learned! Still, this random choice sparked poetry, so no complaints.

I hit on the episode featuring Agi Mishol and Marie Howe. I knew of Howe, of course, but Agi Mishol was new to me. It turns out she is an Israeli poet writing in Hebrew, and she read in Hebrew for the broadcast. Her poems are translated into English, though, and in the "live" broadcast those translations were on the screen. I'm kind of thrilled that I didn't have access to the English. Instead, I let the Hebrew of Agi Mishol's reading wash over me in the car.

And then it happened. I started doing homophonic translations as I caught familiar sounds. (I have often done homophonic translations myself and with students using written texts. For those unfamiliar, a homophonic translation is when you don't try to actually translate a text [from a language you don't know at all...should be completely foreign to you] but instead look for suggested words in your language of origin.) I heard "let me" and "start" and "vault of names," which sent me scrambling for my journal and pen. Another lesson learned: I need to get one of those dash-mounted note pads as I didn't want to stop the podcast to use the voice memo function on my phone. I jotted down some quick lines and then went about the rest of my day (listening to NPR on the return trip as it was time for All Things Considered).

Today, when I got to my desk time, I knew I wanted to go back and re-listen to Agi Mishol with a concentrated focus on using homophonic translation to produce a full poem. And it was a success. Such a success that I plan to do this with my poetry students this fall!  Wahoooza.

So here's the beginning of my draft today. The title is taken and tweaked from something Agi Mishol said in English about "living in a far community" as she tried to describe the small town she lives in.

To Live in a Far Country

Let me start here on this small plot
of red dirt baked hard by drought.  *

The map I clutch marks this spot
The Vault of Forbidden Names, begs me

to dig...

*The red dirt is courtesy of Arkansas. They are expanding I-40 between Little Rock and Conway, so I was bathed in the dust of that red dirt for part of my journey as the scrapers scraped and the dump trucks dumped.

The draft goes on and sort of becomes a local myth/fable/story for a group of people I made up out of thin air and Agi Mishol's beautiful Hebrew sounds. Now I plan to read the translations and listen to the Marie Howe portion of the episode.

Until the next session...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Draft Process: And Did the Country Grieve

79º ~ the thunder, lightning, and rain rolled through last night, taking away our heavy heat and leaving a three-day respite (predicted) ~ one confirmed baby robin in the nest, waiting to see if others will grow large enough to be seen above the rim


Dear reader, as you know I've embarked on my key writing time, and I have to say that it's been a rough week. But, I knew it would be. These muscles are long out of shape. So, I've been at the desk each morning, going through my routine and doing lots of "At this moment..." writing. You may recognize this as my BIC method (Butt-In-Chair).

I've also been thinking a lot about my fall classes while I've been going about the rest of my days. This dovetailed with my cutting up of magazines for my collage work. Sometime in May, I started pulling out pages of text from the magazines/newspapers/books that I was cutting up. (In the past, pages of text were not important and I simply recycled them.) I've got a box that is about 9" x 11" and about 8" tall, where I collect these pages of text, all with the idea of using them for student exercises, as places to gather words without context.

Given that I've been struggling to come up with drafts, I thought I'd give it a try myself today, perhaps spurred on by my recent discovery of two copies of Wine Enthusiast from a decade ago. In the back of these magazines, there are pages and pages of ranked wines with descriptions, and oh, the descriptions are divine...if you skip the abstractions.

So, today, I tried something new, inspired first by the wine descriptions. Instead of just gathering words, I gathered three- to five-word phrases. I think I've shied away from phrases before as a way of avoiding copying too closely the original. However, as part of my new "assignment," I told myself I could only gather five phrases from each excerpt, and I would use five excerpts from vastly different sources. Thus, my first use of a phrase bank rather than a word bank.

Today I used:
Wine Enthusiast descriptions of wine
a page from a National Geo. article on photography in the mountains as scientific instrument (or some such...I'm not reading for content)
a page from an Oxford American essay about a deteriorating house and music
two newspaper articles, one on some political scandal and one on the drought in Texas

With great fervor, I scanned the pages, working best when I disrupted the regular left-to-right, up-down reading by starting lower left and letting my eye skim the page, backwardsish. A sample of what I collected:

agile on the tongue
the wild Greek hymn
accept secret donations
documenting the shifting landscape
curved blades jut out
first whiffs discover
the house collapsed

In the meantime, prior to this, I'd scribbled "And did the drowning boy pray?" in my journal. This is a line from the short story "The Onion" by Jeffrey Ihlenfeldt in Quiddity 7.2, which I'd been reading at the start of my desk time. I liked the way the form of the question could result in so many answers beyond yes or no. I wondered if I could use it in a poem.

And then, I heard "And did the country grieve?" in my head. Of course, with all of the turmoil in our country lately around racially-motivated violence, the events in Charleston have been right at the front of my brain. As soon as I had the question, I wrote it down and it became the title. The draft begins:

The shifting landscape stilled
in the surge of a wild hymn
sprung from throats more used
to dry conditions. Ancient words,

Right away as I drafted, I saw the need to manipulate the phrases I'd captured and re-work them for the poem, but it was a great spark to get me started. And while the draft doesn't mention Charleston or other recent events by name, it does attempt to get at my emotions surrounding such tragedies. I had no idea when I sat down today, that I'd come up with this draft. This, this is the joy of writing for me, the discovery.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

At this moment...: A Way of Diving In

90º ~ dewpoint 73º ~ looking forward to a cold front forecasted for later this week ~ watered front and back early this morning, all the birds enjoyed


I did, indeed, spend yesterday afternoon at the collage table, getting the new journal ready to go. For those interested in such things, I seem to need blank pages so my undisciplined script doesn't look quite so much of a disaster. Also, when I'm working on wordbanks and such, I don't like to be controlled by lines. I use an unlined Moleskine with craft paper covers.

This morning, after shower and with coffee, OJ, and breakfast "cookie," I shoveled all the extraneous bits from my desk, turned on some instrumental music, and opened the new journal. I cracked the wee spine. I flattened the book open to the first, clean page. I sat with feet flat on the floor and took three meditation breaths to clear my mind. Then. Writing on the horizontal, I began with "At this moment... ."

"At this moment..." is one of the most helpful prompts from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. At least, it is the most helpful to me at this time and place in my writing. When I was a much younger writer, "I remember..." was the most helpful prompt of Goldberg's for me.

Knowing that the blank page can intimidate, I simply began recording what my senses perceived "at this moment." In a brief time, I'd filled two pages, and my writing had drifted into more imaginative spaces. While I did not draft a poem today, I returned to the practice of drifting, which will lead, I know, to drafting soon. Until I get in the groove, though, I'll be relying on "at this moment... ."

Without pushing it, I closed the journal and turned to another of my summer 2015 goals: submitting poems. While I don't have much to show for 2013 and 2014 in terms of poems written, I do have a dozen that might be publishable. I polished up four of those and bundled them off to a few journals. Those submitting muscles were pretty out of practice and the whole thing seemed exhausting. I confess that since I finished with the sickly speaker, I feel no ability to judge the poems written in her aftermath. By this I mean that with the poems in The Alchemy of My Mortal Form, I had a strong sense of each one being "ready" for the outside world, not only ready but "worthy." With these disparate 2013-2014 poems, I feel like an unsteady foal once again. I have no idea if their subjects will touch any readers, although I feel okay about their craft, so out they go. The submitting experience should tell whether they are of interest to others or not.

Until tomorrow's moment...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Kicking Off the 2015 Stay-at-Home Summer Writing Residency

84º (feels like 93º), dewpoint 76º ~ and so the season of breath-catching heat & humidity begins, all is richly greened after our wet, cool spring ~ the robins act & don't act as if they are in the midst of getting a second clutch to hatch, perhaps the sitting is unnecessary as the air temp is plenty warm, perhaps


The past three weeks have been slam-packed with busy-ness. The first week of June I ended up being seated as an alternate juror on a difficult trial involving domestic battery. The victim was in her 60s and the perpetrator was in his 50s, a sickening reminder that domestic violence can occur at any age, really.

Directly after that, I headed out on the road for a visit up home to see friends and family, and to attend the North American Review 200, a conference celebrating that magazine's bicentennial. How lucky was I to have the conference in my family's "backyard"?  I attended poetry readings that blew my mind and several sessions on CW pedagogy that provided pages and pages of notes for fall teaching and beyond.

On both sides of the conference, I spent time with folks I see too infrequently, and most of those visits involved getting to play with gaggles of children, ages 12 and under. Intense, exhausting, and so much fun.

Once home, C. and I made a quick trip down to see his folks for the Father's Day weekend, and now my calendar is clear from here until the first weeks of August (barring any trials, as my jury duty is from May - August). So, this post serves as my notice. I shall now embark on my favorite summer ritual (and the reason I don't teach in the summer). I will get up between 7 and 7:30 and after a shower & breakfast, I will post my "WRITING" sign on my office door. C. is wonderful about giving me space, time, and quiet, so I will spend some hours each morning in contemplation, and hopefully, eventually, in drafting and revision.

This blog will serve as my sounding board on how this business of capturing words to give voice to a chaotic, often heart-breaking, world progresses.

But first: I finished off my latest journal while I was in Iowa, so today, I will collage the cover of my next set of blank pages. Until tomorrow....

Monday, June 1, 2015

On Calling Up a New Obsession

69º ~ finally three days in the forecast without rain ~ survival rate of robins: 1 of 3, Saturday we watched the one learn to forage and to fly


Yesterday, in desperation, I posted this to Facebook:

Poet in search of an obsession. Please list non-poetry subjects for possible immersion.

Yes, I was willing to crowdsource. I thought I'd get a few new, interesting ideas; instead, I got a deluge. From the invention of zero to Samurai Jack, episode 7; card tricks to time travel; trilobites to Middle English Dream Visions, I was not disappointed.

Some folks offered subjects for research, while others offered activities to do, and I remembered that action is also a form of immersion.

This morning, I spent some time re-writing the answers as a handwritten list. I'm a huge believer in the difference between handwriting and typing, in the idea that by handwriting we must slow down (if only a fraction) and this allows more "space" in our thinking. As I copied out each new entry, I paid attention to what seemed to spark more enthusiasm in me, and for those entries there is a star, perhaps a coming back.

From time to time on my Facebook post, someone would respond by questioning whether an obsession could be crowdsourced. In fact, I don't really believe it can. I don't think one can be told to obsess about subject A, B, or C. Instead, I found the list more like a card catalogue through which I could flip. In fact, I remember one writing prompt from my past that called for the writer to go to the library, pull the Library of Congress Subject Headings books off the shelf, and randomly select a topic to "research" in hopes of finding a poem there. This Facebook list seems to be something of that sort.

Ultimately, I may be overthinking it all. Regardless, my butt is in the chair and I am engaging in the process. My faith rests in these actions.