Writing the Life Poetic Zine
Publisher & Editor:Sage CohenColumnists:Brittany BaldwinDale FavierSara GuestJenn LalimeChristopher LunaMToni PartingtonShawn SorensenSteve WilliamsCOLUMNIST BIOS
I believe in signs. That's why, when my 10-month-old son pulled the book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller off the shelf for the third time, I decided it was time to read it.
Guilty of preaching something akin to "Sabbath" in Writing the Life Poetic Chapters 60 (The Alchemy of Doing Nothing) and 76 (Allow Fallow Time) but infrequently practicing it, this book gave me a good kick in the pants which landed me squarely on the couch with my feet up.
Lo and behold, on that fateful Saturday, I took a day off from my computer. When my son Theo napped, I napped. Our family took a leisurely trip to the pool. My husband and I cooked a meal together. I felt like a human being instead of a human doing.
Muller credits Brother David Steindl-Rast for reminding us that the Chinese pictograph for "busy" is composed of two characters: "heart" and "killing". This stopped me in my tracks. I, like almost everyone I know, am chronically, overwhelmingly busy. Muller proposes that a day of rest gives us the replenishment we need to live our lives well. To solve our problems creatively. To nourish our hearts -- and in our case, dear reader, our poems.
That day of Sabbath was such a success that my husband and I committed to a family Sabbath every Saturday in which all work comes to a halt and the family simply relaxes, enjoys each other, and follows the threads of curiosity and delight wherever they might lead us.
The paradoxical good news for all of us over-achievers is that slowing down actually produces more: work, joy, equilibrium, love. I wonder if rest may be all we need to replenish our poetic wells when they run dry.
So, let's try an experiment. I propose that you let your creativity simmer on the back burner today, or someday soon, while you simply, deliciously exist--just for the pleasure of it. And while you're reclined with the rest of your life on "snooze", make note of any books or magazines that come your way. They just might hold some thread wisdom you're now ready to unravel.
The word is the way,
Publisher & Editor
The More Resistance, the Less Force
By Dale Favier
"If you encounter resistance, use less force," said our teacher. We all looked up, surprised, from the naked backs we were working on. Our teacher reiterated: "Your instinct is to use more, I know. But if you're meeting resistance, back off. The more resistance, the less force."
We were working with the layer of connective tissue under the skin. Not all massage has to do with muscles. The body, its organs, and its muscles are all shrink-wrapped in connective tissue; the skin rides on top of an extensive layer of the stuff. It can get stiff, tight, distorted. When properly warmed and worked it becomes soft and flexible. But you can't force it. It's like silly putty: when cold and motionless it's hard, but as it warms and moves it becomes more fluid.
My teacher's advice was exactly right. It takes patience to do that work. You have to listen with your hands, slow down, and wait for the skin under your hands to respond. And when it's not responding, it's usually because you're trying too hard, going too fast. It will open up in its own sweet time.
The same thing happens with writing. I encounter resistance of one sort or another -- say an utterly recalcitrant line that just won't come right -- and my first impulse is to apply more force, bull my way on through, force my way forward. It's usually the wrong thing to do. And it's wrong for the same reason that it's wrong to try to force connective tissue: because I'm skipping ahead, trying to get to the solution without exploring the problem.
When you get stuck, first of all, ease off. And listen. Maybe I'm not quite at the right angle. Maybe it's not warm enough yet. Or maybe it's just not going to move today. That has to be all right. "Failure is not an option" may be a fine motto for NASA, but it's not a motto for massage therapists, or for poets.
Failure is always an option. Often it's the most interesting option, if you pay attention to it. Because it means that something is not as you expected it to be. It means, in fact, that there is something to be learned. It means that there's an opportunity to make it new, which is precisely, Ezra Pound said, the poet's job. So don't just push harder. Don't do more of the same. Back off, let go, and listen.
So I can't get that line right. What if there's a good reason for that? What if I'm trying to force the wrong solution? Does there actually need to be another line at all? Try doing without it. Who says this stanza has to look like the other ones? Who says this problematic line shouldn't actually be two, or six? Who says it has to rhyme, or has not to? Who says I can't repeat a word I like? Who says the image can't be conventional, even hackneyed? Try going with the stale image: I can twist it or spike it or erase it later.
And, maybe the most important of all -- know when to quit. Poetry is more like human flesh than any other constructed thing I know. Sometimes you miss your moment, and then you just have to let it be, let it recover. Work on something else.
* * * * *
Dale Favier has taught poetry, chopped vegetables, and written software
for a living. Currently he works half-time as a massage therapist and
half-time running a database for a non-profit in Portland, Oregon. He
is a Buddhist, in the Tibetan tradition. He writes about meditation
and poetry, and whatever ever else he may be interested in at the
moment, at Mole
has an M.Phil. in English Literature from Yale, but he never wrote much
poetry until he began blogging, a few years ago, and fell in with bad
companions. With them he eventually brought out an anthology, Brilliant Coroners.
His poems have also appeared in Qarrtsiluni
and The Ouroborus Review
. His first chapbook, Opening the World
, will be coming out next year from Pindrop Press.
Summer Poetry Prompt
By M and Steve Williams
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Whether new to poetry or creating poems for a lifetime, all writers fear the blank page. There it sits -- that huge expanse of white, like a frozen tundra, just waiting for us to come along and fill it with something.
What are we going to say and how are we going to say it? We stare, we tap our pencils on our desks, we start to sweat. Where do we start?
Often, looking to some very offbeat or unique sources can help get your first words onto the paper. For example, take a look at the following fortune cookie fortunes. (Yes, these are all real fortunes that popped up in real cookies). Fortune cookie sayings were originally based on bible verses and proverbs, but these days almost anything goes:
You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.
Your everlasting patience will be rewarded sooner. Or later.
Be mischievous and you will not be lonesome.
A modest star never talks to itself.
Don't ask. Don't say. Everything lies in silence.
You can always find happiness at work on Friday.
A conclusion is simply the place where you got tired of thinking.
The old pot is best around the kitchen.
Stay off the back roads.
A nice cake is waiting for you.
The blonde at the next table is eyeing you.
Much more grows in the garden than that which is planted there.
It's about time I got out of that cookie.
The rubber bands are heading in the right direction.
Don't kiss an elephant on the lips today.
Now is the time to make circles with mints.
You love Chinese food.
You will receive a fortune, Cookie.
Do not follow the instructions of this fortune.
Help! I am being held prisoner in a Chinese bakery.
You have unusual equipment for success. Use it properly.
Never wear your best pants when you go to fight for freedom.
The onion you are eating is someone else's water lily.
When planning your future always include pretzels.
Never believe what a mime tells you.
Don't ask strangers questions in an elevator.
Be as willing to take napkins as to give them.
Never reach for the stars. They are hot balls of gas and will give you bad burns.
The current year will bring you many light bulbs.
The next fortune cookie you read will be better than this one.
This month's prompt is to use one of the above fortune cookie sayings as the inspiration for a poem. The only other requirement is that the fortune cookie saying you have selected must appear somewhere in the poem in its entirety. You may use it as the first line, the last line, or somewhere in the middle. You can work it into the surrounding lines as part of the narrator's thoughts, or even have one of your poem's characters speak the phrase as a piece of dialog. You can use the saying to create any mood -- serious, humorous, ironic, sorrowful or joyous.
The subject of the poem may be anything you wish. It can be a topic suggested by the "wisdom" the fortune cookie saying is trying to impart, or it can be totally unrelated to the actual saying. Some of the sayings might automatically call a certain setting and scene to mind; for instance, "The blonde at the next table is eyeing you," could be used in a poem that has a restaurant or a bar as its main setting.
The choice of how you use this saying and how you incorporate it into the poem is yours. We think some of these sayings are so wacky and inspiring, you'll probably want to write more than one poem. Go ahead and stuff yourself. These cookie inspirations are guilt- and calorie-free!
M has served as Associate Poetry Editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection
for the past one hundred years or so. More than a few editors have
found her poems acceptable, and included them in their journals. She
received her B.A. in literature so long ago, she's pretty certain her
diploma has crumbled to dust. She also serves as an administrator of on
online poetry workshop called Wild Poetry Forum. If you cannot find her
(she never answers her cell phone), call Powell's Books. The employees
there know exactly what room she's in. And most importantly, she is
very grateful for the enormous amount of love in her life.
Steve Williams lives and works in Portland with a lovely woman who writes and edits much better than he but refuses to admit it.
An Interview with Mari L'Esperance
By Sage Cohen
Mari L'Esperance is one of my very favorite poets and people. For nearly 20 years, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the evolution of her poetic voice and wisdom.
L'Esperance's stunning debut poetry collection, The Darkened Temple, explores the haunting disappearance of a mother and the resonance of loss throughout history, folklore and the natural world. With the balm of lyric, visceral imagery, L'Esperance makes palpable the hollowed and hallowed places she excavates.
This book is so imbued with spirit that I can almost hear the echoes and taste the dust of the darkened temple as I read. I paradoxically find myself uplifted by the authority of L'Esperance's gorgeous language, the graciousness of her gaze--even as I mourn alongside the speaker the crossing that mother and daughter are not able to make.
I'm delighted and honored to be able to share one of Mari's poems with you, as well as our conversation about the writing life.
* * * * *
The Bush Warbler Laments to the Woodcutter
By Mari L'Esperance
I offered you sanctuary with one condition.
Even this much you could not hold.
When you looked into the forbidden chamber
my three daughters became birds
and flew away from me forever.
Memory of our transgressions is a stone. It lies
on the seabed of our deepest forgetting.
--regret and sorrow in the making
Before you came I swept this house daily
with a long broom of rice straw.
Often I would wander from room to room
touching each treasure as I passed:
a golden screen, three red lacquer bowls--
Now, all is dust suspended in late sunlight.
This forest house, with its paper doors and secrets,
is too large for me now. Let it dissolve in mist
and absence, no trace left for the lost children.
What am I but the flower of your deepest self?
--crushed chrysanthemum petals underfoot
Instead, I am cast out across vast distances,
circling far above the trees, never to be human.
You will say that a grand house once stood
in a forest clearing. Then: nothing but birdcalls.
Longing itself is nothing but the heart's open spaces.
--regret and sorrow, come calling
If I could make it so, I would be the one left alone
in the meadow, rubbing my eyes and wondering.
Remember this: I, once a woman, took you in,
an exchange for a promise kept.
Three maidens startled, then transformed into birds.
Whatever you abandon returns in your dreams.
* * * * *
Reprinted from THE DARKENED TEMPLE by Mari L'Esperance by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2008 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Available wherever books are sold or from the University of Nebraska Press 800.755.1105 and on the web at nebraskapress.unl.edu. Please do not duplicate elsewhere without permission.
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What brought you to poetry, and what has sustained your relationship with poetry over the years?
I suppose that life itself brought me to poetry. As for early influences, as a child I loved Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses, a gift from my parents; this was my first exposure to "real" poetry -- its sounds and rhythms, most of all. The same could be said for Dr. Seuss' books.
My parents were not poets or readers of poetry, but they were avid readers and introduced me early to books, mostly fiction and classic children's literature (The Wind in the Willows, which is more a dream than a narrative, is still my favorite book of all time). And there was always music in the house (my father is a choral director in Tokyo) of some kind or another and I studied the piano for about 10 years; these most certainly influenced my eventual attraction to poetry.
I must also credit my Japanese-born mother's influence; she introduced me early on to Japanese language and traditional culture with its inherent appreciation of nature, its fluid and integrated relationship between inner and outer, and of that which transpires in the spaces between -- all of which I feel come through in my poems. However, I did not read poetry with any kind of focus until high school (and then mostly because it was required), and then not again until my late 20s, when I began to write my own poems in various workshops in the Bay Area.
The constancy of poetry has carried and sustained me through significant phases of my life, some of them quite difficult. After graduate school there were years when I did not write a thing. But poetry has always been there, like a subterranean river, keeping me going and grounding me in what matters. It's a resource I draw from, like a well, whenever the need calls. It's my one unconditional relationship!
You have a graduate degree in creative writing from New York University. How do you feel this education influenced your development as a poet?
Graduate school was like a dream, albeit one not without its challenges, personal and otherwise. But it was largely a positive, transformative experience: living in New York City for the first time, writing and reading poems alongside others, attending readings, visiting museums and galleries, walking the city, taking it all in...
It was a pivotal time for me, one that deepened and refined my relationship to poetry and validated me as a poet. I benefited much from interactions with and feedback from my teachers and peers and made a few lasting friendships. That said, since graduating in 1996 I have had to be in the dark for some years, in part to focus on other matters, but also to feel my halting way to my own voice, to poems that are my own and not of the workshop.
I've heard it said that one must forget everything that one learned in graduate school. To some degree this is true. Every student, every individual, must make her own way in the wilderness to arrive at some measure of authenticity. It's a rite of passage. But we also don't write alone; we carry along with us, and fold into our developing poems and person, everyone and everything that's touched us in some way.
How did your book The Darkened Temple take shape? And how did you decide which poems belonged together here?
Shortly before graduating from NYU, Sharon Olds, who was my thesis advisor, said to me, "You're going to have a book!" I didn't entirely believe her then, but it planted a seed, one that I carried and nurtured in subsequent years when poems often felt a million miles away.
The Darkened Temple was written over a span of about 12-13 years. About a third of the poems were written in graduate school and many of these were included in my chapbook Begin Here (2000 Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press). In the years between NYU and the book's acceptance, I was writing fitfully, with productive periods here and there. Life interrupted, as it frequently does, and I made choices (immersing myself in another field, for example), but the idea of a book of poems was always with me.
Sometime late in 2006 I found myself with some open time and it occurred to me that I might have enough poems for a full-length manuscript, which I then began to put together. It wasn't too difficult to intuitively determine which poems to include and how they should be arranged. After the manuscript was accepted for the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in June 2007, series editor Hilda Raz gave me many helpful suggestions for edits and revisions, several of which I incorporated. I also wrote four new poems for the manuscript.
When I give readings I generally describe the arc of the book like so: the first of the book's three sections is a "circling" or "gathering," encompassing poems written from various perspectives of cultural and personal history; the poems in the second section bear down and intently focus on the book's central event and its aftermath; while the poems in the third section embody a sense of emergence, acceptance, and release.
You won the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. That's really impressive! How has your life and/or your relationship with poetry changed since this success?
Thanks, Sage... My life hasn't changed all that much, nor has my relationship with poetry, other than that I now take myself a little more seriously as a poet, as in, "Maybe I can do this poetry thing after all!" People seem to take notice a bit more when they learn that my book won the prize. That, admittedly, feels good; I'm trying to learn how to enjoy my accomplishments!
I've given some readings, which have been gratifying, and have met people -- poets and readers of poetry, mostly -- and I've been generously invited to visit classes and answer interview questions such as yours. But in the end, I'm still a person with the same growing edges, the same bad habits, the same bag of shadow (to paraphrase Robert Bly's apt metaphor) dragging behind me (although it does seem to get lighter with each passing year). A person who has to face the blank page (or screen, depending on your preference) -- and herself -- and begin anew each time, just like every other poet. I don't think my head has gotten any bigger as a result of the prize, at least I hope not.
I must say that having work and relationships outside the poetry world helps me to maintain perspective and a sense of balance. For me, being a poet is a way of life, not a "career". It's an art and a practice, yes, but equally important, it's a way of seeing and being in the world. After all, it's the poems that matter, in the end. The rest is... the rest. It's easy to lose sight of this in the rarefied and largely hermetic "po-biz" universe with all of its seductive bells and whistles. Take it all away, and what's left?
What poetry books are next to your bedside table? What are you appreciating about them?
At the moment the pile next to my bed is growing dangerously high and will require an emergency pruning soon to avert disaster. I recently went through a spate of poetry book buying and kind of pigged out at the trough. Not hard to do, especially during National Poetry Month! Let's see, I've got D.A. Powell's Chronic, Jane Mead's The Usable Field, Li-Young Lee's Behind My Eyes, Kazim Ali's The Far Mosque, Russell Edson's See Jack, Mary Ruefle's Cold Pluto, Paula Bohince's beautiful book Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods, Larissa Szporluk's Dark Sky Question, Phillis Levin's May Day, and Rusty Morrison's the true keeps calm biding its story... I'll spare you and skip the piles on the floor.
I appreciate different things about each of these books, but do like that each deals with darkness and shadow in some way, but artfully rather than narcissistically. I'm also a sucker for beauty and these are beautiful books. Sadly, beauty seems to get a bad rap these days, particularly in poetry circles where thinking is valued over feeling and being. I find that with each of these books, beauty is not an end in itself; these are poems written with rigorous intelligence and attention to music, to how a poem is built with language, metaphor, sound, and image.
The best of these poems have been made by the whole person: the poet has equally engaged heart, intellect, and body in the making. Lastly, these are poems that transcend and include that which is beyond the "I" of the ego, something to which all good poetry aspires.
You have taught poetry over the years. What do you find is the best way into a poetic state of mind for people who are new to the craft?
I have not taught since 2002, when I left teaching to begin graduate studies in psychology (I'm currently training to be a psychotherapist), but think that I would like to teach again. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Reginald Flood's Introduction to Creative Writing students at Eastern Connecticut State University and was reminded of how much I enjoy interacting with students!
As for getting into a "poetic" state of mind, this is unique for each poet. What helps me is to have quiet and uninterrupted space, even for just an hour or two. In this time I do a good deal of staring into space, daydreaming, ruminating. I also read poems by others, moving intuitively between books, whatever calls to me in the moment. I may do this for some time -- 20 to 30 minutes or so, an hour -- until an image comes (and it's nearly always an image at first). I may then jot down some notes by hand, or turn to the computer to begin writing -- not a poem, specifically, but the very earliest beginnings of one.
This seems to be my process. It's not very exotic or unusual. I know that I'm not a public poet -- I can't write or think well in cafés or other places where there are noises and visual distractions. Most of my poems come from material that has accrued and shape-shifted internally over a long period of time. Sometimes I keep notes in a notebook; I'm not particularly disciplined or regular about this practice, but again, it's unique to each person. It took me years to even recognize what I needed as a poet. And I'm not a collaborator. I suspect this is pretty typical of most poets. We like to have control over our product!
What has community meant to you in your life of poetry?
As I'm not the clubbable sort, I find myself chafing against the overused word "community," although your question is entirely legitimate, so I will attempt to answer it legitimately. When I was younger I felt a greater need to be part of a poetry "community". Graduate school fulfilled this need, to a large extent, as did, for a while afterwards, occasional poetry groups.
These days I feel a lot of ambivalence around the idea of a poetry "community". It's been challenging to find and sustain a community of poets beyond graduate school, as I'm not affiliated with an academic institution or poetry "clique". When the opportunity presents itself, I enjoy talking with other poets about poetry, about what we're writing and reading, and about the business of poetry. Facebook, which I joined in December to promote my book, has provided a "community" of sorts, but a limited one (as anything is limited in the virtual world).
At this stage I feel mostly satisfied to plod along in my own meandering, solitary way. I have the likes of Jack Gilbert, Jane Mead, Kay Ryan, and others as my models. I have a small handful of poet/writer friends whom I trust, whose work I respect, whose opinions and insights I value, and, perhaps most importantly, whom I like as people. In time I would like to exchange new work with others, as I do believe this is valuable at particular stages of poem making. In the end, my greatest writing community consists of the poets and writers, both dead and alive, whose work nourishes and inspires me.
Why do you believe poetry is important today?
When has it not been important? I feel like anything I say in response to this question has already been said, and better. But I will say this: the best poetry continually reveals to me what it means to be human. And perhaps this is why it's important today: we need to reconnect with our humanity before we destroy ourselves and everything around us. It may be too late. But we must try. Poetry is one way.
* * * * *
Born in Kobe, Japan and raised in California, Guam, and Japan, Mari L'Esperance's first full-length collection The Darkened Temple was selected by Hilda Raz for the 2007 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and published by University of Nebraska Press in September 2008. An earlier collection Begin Here was awarded the 1999 Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press Chapbook Prize and published in 2000.
L'Esperance's work has appeared in several literary journals, including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Many Mountains Moving, Poetry Kanto, and Salamander; in Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry by Sage Cohen (Writer's Digest Books); and is forthcoming in the anthology When the Muse Calls: Poems for the Creative Life, edited by Kathryn Ridall.
A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, graduate of New York University's Creative Writing Program, former New York Times Company Foundation Creative Writing Fellow, and recipient of residency fellowships from Hedgebrook and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, L'Esperance lives and writes in Oakland, California.
* * * * *
Visioning the Project and Collective
By Jenn Lalime and Sara Guest
The concept of VoiceCatcher came to our founder, Diane English, initially in a dream. Once she assembled seven women to turn dream into reality, our conversations too turned down this path: How will VoiceCatcher do it differently? What will make VoiceCatcher unique?
Yes, it will be for women; yes, it will be local; yes, we'll publish poetry and prose; but one overarching theme rose above it all: respect. How will we respect local women writers? We'd felt the sting of hallow rejection notices and this was a practice we were determined not to perpetuate. But how can we ask women to share their words with us knowing we are unable to publish them all? How will we say "no, thanks" in a way that doesn't break hearts or discourage a writer on her journey?
The real fun began when we seven, determined women strove to make process as important as product as we brought out our first edition. The two practices that have serves as cornerstones of our philosophy of respect since that time are these: each piece of writing shared with us is read by at least three editors; and each writer whose work is not selected is given specific written feedback on the strongest of their manuscripts.
Since our second year, we've operated with three reading teams--nine editors working in groups of three. Editors read the work independently, then the team comes together to discuss and decide collectively which manuscripts rise to the top. Working to reach consensus this way is time consuming but worth it. Women are trusting their work to us and we respect writers by giving manuscripts the opportunity to hook not just one, but three indivudual editors. We sit together at the end of the day to honor what we've read even if we decide against publishing it.
And for those pieces to which we have to say "no, thanks," one editor, who feels that she connects in some way to the author's writing, goes back to her desk once all the decisions are made and looks again at it. She composes a letter describing what she feels is strongest, offering ideas and suggestions on where to take the manuscript. It's a very personal, "from me to you" type of communication.
This final piece, the writing of feedback, gets harder each year as our submission numbers climb. We worry about the commitment we ask of our volunteer editorial staff. But it is this work, the connection from one writer to another, that makes VoiceCatcher what it is-makes us different, keeps us a little closer to the magic that writing is all about.
More about VoiceCatcher at www.voicecatcher.org.
* * * * *
Sara Guest, a native mid-westerner, has been tripping the light
wowtastic in Portland, Oregon since 2004. A longtime producer and editor,
Sara works as a program coordinator for Write Around Portland and volunteers with Literary Arts and VoiceCatcher (currently as board chair). She writes poetry and fiction and is a voracious reader and lover of Powell's City of Books.
Jenn Lalime is a northwest native, a writer and editor, a mother and a
wife. She's lucky to work with the following organizations to bring
the words of fellow writers out into the world: Portland Women Writers, VoiceCatcher, and Tin House Books. She thanks the universe every day for President Obama whose presence in
the White House gives her the peace of mind to stay focused on her
first and true love: reading great fiction.
The Irony of the Small Horn
By Sage Cohen
Paul says the Great American Music Hall
should be called The Great European Music Hall.
Its gold flourishes and imperial balcony feel more
like something you'd yearn for from across an ocean.
Nothing is named right in this world.
I don't know what to call Paul's body against mine.
Dancing, maybe, but that's not enough.
It's more like a question before it is born
gathering force among the margins
of what is already known or believed.
Paul has his hand on my stomach where my shirt rides up
and I press into the beat coming through his chest.
My hips rotate with the room. Singular surrenders to plural.
Sweat and smoke and beer and bodies pulse in the darkness.
The music is a fire. Dancing is the flame.
We all depend on each other to burn.
Paul points out the enormous man playing the tiny trumpet.
All the big guys have small horns, we agree.
This poem was supposed to be about that. About the trumpet,
because that was how Paul and I planned it.
But nothing ever turns out the way you think it will.
The music ends, and then it's time to go home.
|Creating Space for Writing
Making Room Internally
By Toni Partington
Last month, you identified the physical space that inspires you to write poetry. This month, it's time to make space inside yourself. This isn't a process to stop the noise, eliminate internal conversation, or remove people. It's a process of reflection and preparation.
Poems happen we've allowed our mind and body to access the internal place where imagination is married to creativity and the freedom of expression. How can we get there? I suggest a reflection exercise to start exploring the answer to that question. Identify your obstacles
Make a list of what's in the way of your writing. Be honest--are the obstacles in your mind or in the world? Do they carry more weight than necessary? Are they excuses for not writing? When you've finished the list, rank them 0-10 (zero for excuses that can be removed by structure or determination, five for things we can change with some effort, and ten for issues or situations requiring serious resolution). Next to each item, write down what you can, or rather what you will do to stop these from preventing you to write. Identify your strengths
This reflection exercise is in two categories. One is for folks already writing poetry on a regular basis -- let's call you Active Poets. The other is for beginners, whom we'll call Emerging Poets. Go to a quiet place, bring pen/paper and allow 60-90 uninterrupted minutes.Active Poets:
Select five poems you've written -- ones you feel good about. Start by reading the first poem. Close your eyes and think about what inspired this poem. Write down your responses to the following prompts:
- Where were you when you wrote the poem?
- Was there a specific catalyst?
- What was going on in your life at the time?
- How did you feel when you started the poem? Finished it?
- How do you feel about the poem now?
Begin by listing five personal, academic or work-related achievements where you overcame an obstacle or problem. Take the first achievement, close your eyes and think about the moment you knew you had achieved success. Describe the feeling in writing and respond to the following prompts:
- What turned the corner for you -- was there a specific catalyst?
- Describe the difference between how you felt before and after this success.
- How do you feel about the achievement now?
Do this exercise for each poem or achievement on your list. If you need a break, take one. Try not to do this fast or on the fly. When you are finished, read what you've written and make notes along the margins of themes that emerge. Are there common elements in the themes or something that is present nearly every time you write a poem or feel accomplished? What is it? Write it down. Recap what works
You've just identified some key themes in your process that would be helpful to repeat. We're going to help you remember these by listing them on a clean sheet of paper. For example, here are my themes:Theme one: Nature as muse
I get an overwhelming feeling outside when I notice how small I am compared to the enormity of nature. Sight, sound, smell and temperature are all likely to spark poetry for me. Theme two: Social justice as spark
When I feel concern about a social issue and want to learn as much as I can, often I express myself in writing. Empathy, compassion and care generally send me looking for a pen.
Reflection can help us recognize the feelings and circumstances that nudge imaginings, creativity, language, and ideas. Think of the list you've just created as a jump-start -- knowledge of what sparks you. Carry it with you and refer to it whenever you feel drab or unmotivated to write. With instant recall of the elements that fuel your desire to write, you can open your poetic world.
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Toni Partington lives and works in Vancouver, WA. Her poetry has appeared in the NW Women's Journal, the Anthology of the River Poets' Society, VoiceCatcher 3, the Cascade Journal
and others. Toni's other work includes career/life coaching, editing
services for new and emerging writers, and grant writing. This winter
she joined the editorial collective for VoiceCatcher 4. She holds a BA
in Social Work and an MA focused on Literature and Literary Editing.
Before that, Toni was a high-school drop out, pregnant and then married
at age 16 whose life came faster than it should have and toughened her
into a self-described survivor. Today, her circle includes family,
friends, dogs and poets, not in any particular order.
|The Cook, The Writer, The Gardener, The Business Woman
By Brittany Baldwin
I started writing as soon as they taught me how. I didn't speak loud or well but with my pen there was no need for sound. In words I could say anything. I have boxes of stacked notebooks hidden in closets-fantasy stories from early elementary and journals from fifth grade on.
I was the girl with the stack of polished stones on her desk she used as telephones to her invisible friends. At a certain point everyone else was living in reality and I was able to slip off easier.
At 15 I got a job at the foot of our mountain washing dishes, bussing tables and making pizzas. Pizza is a good place to start in a kitchen. You have to prep all your toppings so you learn how to use a knife and how to work with dough. I was taught by a high school punk kid and an older creep who always said "I have a friend who really likes 15 year olds."
I worked in restaurants for 10 years then started a catering company. The business woman was born. I had to learn how to talk to people, make big decisions about where to go and how to do it. Everyone in my immediate family is an entrepreneur. I was much shyer and awkward than they are and I messed up terribly so many times at first, stuttering and blushing. Thankfully, my food spoke for itself.
Two years ago I decided I wanted to grow vegetables for the company, get a few hens for farm eggs. When I was growing up, my mother ran a flower garden business; I had worked part time for her throughout my teenage years. I knew the basics of plants but now I was growing and selling quail eggs, squash blossoms and fine herbs. After a long day cooking over a stove in the middle of summer, now I put on a dress and play in the garden at sunset; eating as I go. Back stooped, talking to the tomatoes, I am a gardener.
I balance these four arts: writing, cooking, business and gardening, like old friends. They trade poems about food, and menus written like poems, and plants grown for the company and the company pays the bills. Today, writing still serves as a refuge for things I can't say well. Along with the woods around my farmhouse, it always makes me clean again. With cats rubbing into my ankles and dogs panting in the corner, I am alone chopping onions listening to recordings of old poets.
* * * * *
Brittany Baldwin runs a small catering and personal chef company that
maintains its own organic garden. She has written poetry in Portland
for eight years while starting her own business and self publishing her
own poetry collection, Broken Knuckles Against Knives, Cutting The Food To Feed Me Through This
(2005). In 2002 she received a BA in Creative Writing from the
University of Colorado. Her poetry has appeared in the poetry
collections Ephemeris and Broken Word: Alberta Street Anthology Volume 1 and 2.
She has appeared on KBOO's Talking Earth, won an honorable mention in
the Oregon State Poetry Associations fall 06 contest and was featured
in the 2006 and 2007 Silverton Poetry Festival.
|Discover New Poetry Markets and Get Published
|By Shawn Sorensen * * * * *
I hope you enjoyed the submission ideas and three outlets for publication from my last column. Please report back regarding any correspondence you receive from a publication or contest, and I'll do the same! We'll celebrate our successes and also rejections.
I can hear you asking "Why should I celebrate a rejection? Aren't I supposed to feel lousy? Aren't I supposed to wither like a rose bush in winter?"
Absolutely not! I suggest you wear rejections like badges of honor. Why? Because you're in the game! You're taking the risk to put your work out in the world. And if you don't get accepted, then at least you have work you could revise, or simply send somewhere else.
And if you do get published, that can expand your horizons even further.
The best part about submitting work, in my experience, is that almost everybody gets back to you. There's no rush involved, though, so I wouldn't recommend camping out by your mailbox. Some publications may take a month or two. Most take two to 12 months.
So keep writing and submitting in the meantime! The best thing to do to pass the time is write and revise more poems until they're ready to send out.
Here are three great markets to check out this summer: Print Journal: The MacGuffin
Published three times per year, The MacGuffin
journal simply wants "well-crafted poetry". For reference, The MacGuffin
has recently published poems by Dawn McDuffie, Lisa Siedlarz and Vivian Shipley, poetry that is slightly revelatory and/or humorous in tone, something that sheds new light on the greater meanings of making it through the world.
Send no more than five poems, along with a cover letter, to Carol Was, Poetry Editor/ Schoolcraft College/18600 Haggerty Rd., Livonia MI/48152-2696. Considers simultaneous submissions and would like poems to be typed and single-spaced with the poet's name, address, and e-mail appearing on each page. Include an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Pays two contributor's copies. For a sample, send $6 to the above address.Online Journal: Wild Goose Poetry Review
This is a lovely website that publishes poetry every three months. You can send simultaneous submissions, but don't include previously published work. Email submissions only, with poems pasted right in the body of an email. A cover letter here is a very good idea. Over 10% of all poems submitted get published! To get all the submission details and read poems from other editions, go to www.wildgoosepoetryreview.com.
Responds in four to six weeks, often with comments. Contest: New River Poets Triannual Poetry Awards
Lots of prizes, a contest every four months, and low entry fee make the New River Poets
contest an attractive option. 1st-8th place poems receive cash prizes and submissions may be previously published, even winning in other contests. This is for your best work, but choose from anything you've ever written. Submit up to four poems of no more than 42 lines each.
Submit what you'd like, but if you use a structured form, simply identify it. Send two copies of each poem on 8 1/2 X 11 white paper and list the deadline in upper right-hand corner of both copies. On the second copy only, in the upper right-hand corner under deadline, list your name and full address. Include #10 SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).
Entry fee is $5 for up to four poems - only a little over a buck per poem if you submit four. Checks are payable to New River Poets. Mail submissions to Verna Thornton/New River Poets/36929 Grace Ave./Zephyrhills FL 33542. Postmark Deadlines: Oct. 15th and Feb. 15th.
Now get those poems out! Wishing you good fortune and fun.
Shawn Sorensen is a published, award-winning poet whose work can be viewed at mannequinenvy.wordpress.com,
Winter 2008 edition. His poetry submission goal is to send something
in at least every other week and get published/recognized a few times
per year. He's written dozens of complete book reviews, including
sixteen poetry titles, on goodreads.com and braves a perilous river crossing to be the Community Relations Manager at Barnes & Noble Vancouver. After
getting dry and attending to numerous shark bites, he plans and hosts
an every-2nd-Wednesday Poetry Group event that's always at 7 pm, always
features the area's best poets, and always has a great open mic.
Poetic Lineage and the Saturation Job
By Christopher Luna
I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was eleven I received a typewriter for Christmas and immediately began banging out imitations of Stephen King and Rod Serling. Later I drifted toward poetry, music, and film. Eventually, in my twenties, I discovered two books that changed my life: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Allen Ginsberg's Collected Poems. I read both books cover to cover, and knew immediately that this was what I had to do.
Walt Whitman wrote about the promise of America and described a New York long-gone, yet familiar. He wrote about the beauty in all things, and the beauty in himself, and the importance of both loving and celebrating it all. Although his book had been written more than a century before I sat down to read it, I felt he was addressing me directly.
Allen Ginsberg wrote about the promise of America in its mid-Twentieth Century downturn. Democracy was threatened by McCarthyism, consumerism, nuclear weapons, and the war in Vietnam. More importantly, many Americans suffered from a lack of imagination. Ginsberg's sexually precocious, righteously indignant, stream-of-consciousness poems represented freedom. His words pointed toward The Possible. And whatever it was, The Possible was definitely more exciting than life in the suburbs.
When I was a student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Anne Waldman introduced me to the concept of poetic lineage. Those who take the study of poetry seriously find that they are part of a poetic family tree that stretches back generations. Once you have discovered your poetic lineage, and have a sense of where your work fits into that history, you have a homework assignment for life akin to what Charles Olson referred to as a "saturation job." In his essay "A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn," Olson wrote: "Best thing to do is to dig one thing or place or man until you yourself know more about that than is possible to any other man. . . . One saturation job (it might take 14 years). And you're in, forever."
What will become your saturation job?
Poets refer to our poetic elders by their first names. This is because we have spent enough time with their words to feel a certain familiarity. It is because they are our family and friends.
One can also learn lessons about how to live from our poetic elders. In my case, Whitman taught me that one can decide to dedicate one's working life to jobs that are related to writing: teaching, publishing, journalism. Allen Ginsberg provided a model of generosity that is still unmatched. Despite being our first (and perhaps only) poet to enjoy the same popularity as a rock star, Ginsberg provided support to many of his friends and followers. As Ed Sanders points out, Ginsberg even stormed the offices of publishers, insisting that they publish his friends, unknowns who would come to be regarded as some of the most important writers of our time. Don't you wish you had a friend like that? How would your life be different if you aspired to emulate such generosity?
* * * * *
Christopher Luna is a poet,
editor, artist, teacher, and graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics. Publications include Cadillac Cicatrix, eye-rhyme, Exquisite Corpse, and the @tached document. Chapbooks include tributes and ruminations, On the Beam (with David Madgalene), and Sketches for a Paranoid Picture Book on Memory. GHOST TOWN, USA, which features poems and observations of Vancouver, WA, is available through Cover to Cover Books and Angst Gallery, or from the author.
To Thine Own Self Be True
By Sage Cohen
* * * * *
Ren was a massage practitioner in my home treating my dog Hamachi for back pain. He had paw prints tattooed around his wrists and Pat Benatar's name running up the inside of his forearm. The first time he came to my house, I found myself singing for the rest of the day in my most macho rocker girl swagger: "You can cry tough baby, it's alright; You can let me down easy, but not tonight."
Ren's second visit inspired, "Before I put another notch in my lipstick case, you better make sure you put me in my place." "Fire and Ice," of course, was simply inevitable.
On his third visit, I asked Ren: "How has it impacted your life to have Pat Benatar's name on your body?"
He was sitting on the floor with Hamachi in his lap. She was upside down, spread eagle, licking his wrists. He was working on softening the fascia of her belly that connects to the spine. He lit up.
"Pat Benatar is my talisman," Ren explained. "Her name on my arm is a daily reminder of who I am and how I want to live. I go into people's homes, and they see her name on my arm, and they are reminded of whom they are and how they want to live. It gets us talking about what matters to us."
I am intrigued by this idea of taking the name or idea or embodiment of someone or something else literally into your skin. Living alongside your life, these words perhaps provide a kind of parallel perception; a harmony playing counterpart to the main melody of your form and function--an aspiration or value to which you have assigned yourself, against which the beating of your own heart aligns or collides.
I have never been certain enough about the longevity of any word, phrase, or belief to tattoo it onto my body. However, I did wear a necklace pendant for maybe three years straight that said, "To thine own self be true." I liked to think of that necklace having powers akin to Wonder Woman's groovy metal bracelets: deflecting all that might steer me off the course of my greatest good. And I am absolutely convinced that those words worked!
Today, magnetized to the calendar above my desk are two SARK cards that my dear friend Pam sent me. One reads "Breathe" and the other, "All your dreams are already coming true." Beside this, a framed piece of art that my mother gave me maybe twenty years ago that has been held close in every home since: "The act of writing is the art of discovering what you believe." --David Hare. Again: none of these are imprinted on my skin, but all are a part of my daily visual cues as I look up to consider deadlines and seek poems from that vast, diaphanous place above my head where they materialize.
Words can be like arrows, directing your attention in certain directions. And they can be like steering wheels, literally influencing the choices you make and actions you take. I encourage you to think (and feel) carefully about the words you keep close: on your body, where you sleep, work, and live. Sooner or later, the words you see will become a part of your framework of belief.
If "Pat Benatar" are the two words you need to keep in sight to remind you of your true North, then by all means become one with the legendary rocker. Whatever it is you believe or you'd like to believe, experiment with letting words be the current that can keep your circuits juiced with your own truth.
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writer's Digest Books, March 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. She writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as poetry editor for VoiceCatcher 4.
Co-curator of a reading series at Barnes & Noble, Sage teaches the
online class Poetry for the People. She has been awarded first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Learn more at sagesaidso.com and