Thursday, February 20, 2020

Twila Newey : On a Good Writing Day

Morning is anaphora—a chime & light around the edge of the sheet draped over our window. Seven to eight-thirty, Monday through Friday, I wake into my mother mind—a state of lists & repetitions & love—beginnings that repeat. We stumble down a few stairs still groggy with sleep, bump into each other getting breakfast, putting on shoes, sometimes jovially, sometimes in tired irritation. Years have lengthened my children’s limbs & made of them capable creatures who can feed themselves, cereal & milk, toast, even a cup of chai.

I’m the school bus where we live. Thanks to recent tax cuts unpaid work expands. And I’m the kiss on the forehead, the—have you brushed your teeth, do you have the permission slip, grab your coat! Some mornings are yelling & scramble. Most are quiet repetition & jumble. I drive three down the hill to school, pick up a friend, whose mother cannot be a bus, and drive back up.  I walk him & my youngest through the suburban trees to their school five minutes from our house.

On my walk home, through fog or sun, I shift into writer mind—a less predictable place of wander & experiment & love. My list-less mind, my not-in-a-hurry mind, my what’s-down-this rabbit-hole mind. I inhabit that state between eight-thirty & three-o’clock, more or less. On a good day, if I can stay off of Twitter, the hours unfold. First at my desk or the kitchen table, still populated with vestiges yesterday’s books & this morning’s breakfast. I’ve had to actively train myself to ignore our detritus. A house with four children is clutter & crumb. There will always be floors that need sweeping & dishes to be washed. In much the same way that there will always be books to read & poems to write. Time expands when I think of things this way. I find myself in the midst of new-agey abundance. My mother mind, my writing mind, feed each other metaphors & share a cup of tea.

In the dark, early years of motherhood when I believed my mother & writer mind were doomed to be forever embattled, my most tender memories are of ignored messes & shared books about owl & moon. They live in a halo like glow. The times I chose, instead, to clean some corner feel like loss, a tiny pinpoint of blue-shaped grief. So, I try to apply this learned lesson to my right now—find a book, snuggle up, there can never be too many poems about the moon & owls. The years I played the all-or-nothing mother role, starring extreme selflessness & home-made snacks, made me so sad I almost disappeared completely. So, now I allow other mothers to be room-mom & run the PTA. I know & see the unpaid work that women do, the care & attention swept under the rug by real people with real jobs. I try to honor the time their generous work allows me. I read & write, write & read, make myself chiasmus. Usually, I surface to eat sometime between eleven & noon, take a walk or weed a little, maybe sweep. Menial tasks & movement can unfurl a field of unexpected words. Other days submissions & spreadsheets eat the hours. My mother mind helps my writer mind keep track of details & check writing things off lists, neat & tidy, not a crumb in sight.
I can’t, in good conscience, walk you into my afternoon without pausing here to note the other state in which I write these pretty words & live my pretty life. I have more than my share here. Old childhood ghosts might have haunted me to death except for good insurance & financial stability. Access to healing & writing weren’t separate for me, nor are they separate from the color of my skin—which looks like sand but is called white—in the country where I live.  I also had unfathomable luck in partnering with a man who understands that writing, for me, is endemic, is survival. More Cinderella than prince, he wins the bread, cooks each night & washes dishes. He sees a neat house as neither his due nor my job and thinks it’s better that I occasionally miss a field trip permission slip, forget the valentines & skip homemade lunches, than step in front of a public bus, subsidized by taxes, leaving our children motherless & hungry. Maybe some dismiss me because they think housewife and some because they think selfish to write when she should be—fill in the blank. True enough, true enough. But, thankfully, those thoughts belong to others’ minds & are stories they must unravel for themselves.
That said, come on into afternoon now. Here’s a small, green couch next to the window where sometimes fog settles & sometimes sun shines in. Here a stack of books & notebook, a pen & my hands. Mind the cup of tea, gone cold, by my feet. This is where, for one or two hours more, I’ll experiment & wander, reclined & wrapped in a blanket. Until my phone chimes at three and I become a bus again, drive down the hill & up again, shift back into my mother mind, into repeated lists & lines. Afternoon an epistrophe—different repetitions at the end of my poetic time. I am the hug, the—How was your day? Almost home! Please wash your hands. Of course, this narrative is prone to endless disruption & unexpected turns, as is every good poem & part of its beauty, as all poets know.

Twila Newey received her M.F.A. in Writing and Poetics from Naropa in 2003 and took a ten-year writing break, aside from near-daily journaling, while her four children were young. Her poems have been selected as finalists for the 2019 Coniston Prize at Radar Poetry and won honorable mention in 2019 Juxtaprose Poetry Prize. You can find her other work at Summerset Review, The Cape Rock, Rust & Moth, EcoTheo Review, After the Pause, as well as other journals. Her first novel, Sylvia, is forthcoming from BCC Press in 2020. Twila is a poetry reader for Psaltry & Lyre and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Twitter: @motleybookshelf
Facebook: Twila Newey

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Joe Linker : A Writing Day

For years, I pocketed a single piece of paper, folded in half, then folded in thirds, so it fit easily reachable but inconspicuously into a dress shirt pocket, behind a pen, an idea I got from the writer Joseph Mitchell. Sometimes, that piece of paper might last a week, or longer signifying a period of listening lassitude. Other times, I would need to replace a filled piece of paper daily. The used pieces, worn and frayed, smeared, unfolded and placed flat on the desk or table, yielded twelve rectangles of writing, six on each side, with no discernible sequence or connection: notes, names, places, lists, ideas, dialog, doodles, drawings, mini-calendars, music, reminders, abbreviations only I would ever be able to decipher, and sometimes even I could not, poetry, sentences, symbols. The pages filled desk drawers, old shoe boxes, compost for some writing spring.

These days, I allow myself the luxury of a pocket size Moleskin Cahier unlined journal book, which I slip into the left back pocket of my jeans, which I wear for three or four days running before the biweekly shave and shower. The book lasts much longer than that, weeks, maybe months. The used books, contoured like an old pair of pants, a few missing pages, each remaining page crossed out as having been used or declared not useful, like their folded page precursors, also fill the desk drawer or a shoe box.

The writing day becomes a writing life. The folding of a new piece of paper or the opening of a new journal brings a kind of joy. After a time, old papers and journals are discarded, tossed into the recycling bin. To keep them, to save them, would be too sentimental, soft, presumptuous. What nutrition they might have contained has already been burned. The hard edge of writing is on the front line, always something new. And yet, pictured, is me at my writing desk, circa 1974, at work on what would become, 40 years later, “Penina’s Letters.”

Writing is incremental, a process of addition, but also of subtraction, of awakening and sleeping, that daily rhythm, slowed to a pulse, a breath.

Joe Linker is the essay editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse from Feb. 2020, having served as poetry editor from Feb. 2019. He’s lived most of his life on the US west coast within reach of the ocean.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Shannon McLaughlin : my (small press) writing day

I’ve never been able to create a consistent writing routine. Has anyone? With full-time work, beloved friends, perpetual chores and a lazy streak, any weekday writing for me must happen in the margins. But as writing time becomes scarce, it becomes precious. I take advantage of lunchtime walks downtown to daydream, to read a few pages, to look at things. Writing is all about desire, and I don’t want to smother that desire with anxiety. I save my strength for the weekend.

Saturday is my favourite writing day, the only day without the pressure of tomorrow, with stretches of time long enough to take real comfort and pleasure in the possibility of writing. I’ll admit the day gets off to a rough start. I drag myself out of bed (a perverse punishment) and make coffee. My sentimental soul needs to open all the curtains, light a candle, and put on a record at low volume.  A certain atmosphere (luxurious), plus the smell of coffee, makes for a smoother transition into wakefulness. I drink an entire French press.

Sometimes the writing happens early, but more often it takes a full morning/afternoon of reading, looking at Instagram, looking at nothing, more reading, looking at paintings, and looking at videos of natural phenomena on YouTube before the engine starts to turn over. And now I finally have an apartment with room for a proper table. This is where I like to write. It reminds me of doing homework at the kitchen table as a child. Like most writers, I did my best work as a child.

If I’m lucky, the feelings and scraps of information accumulated during the week will start to resurface once I actually sit down to write. I’m surprised by how often I pull up my work-in-progress, reread a few paragraphs, and find that the excitement of what I’m doing just rushes back. The idea, the desire—it’s still there! Even just getting down a few paragraphs or half a poem feels good. In terms of actual productivity, some days are a total wash. But time spent drifting between reading and writing feels like time reclaimed.

I can’t respectably call this a routine; it is what it is, and it serves the purpose for the time being. It is time staked out from necessity, and while it’s true that the limitations of daily life often provoke frustration/existential crises during the week, the constraints have helped me reframe the way I think about writing. My writing day isn’t always guaranteed but at least it breathes—it allows me to write with pleasure, it allows me to be the person I am.

Shannon McLaughlin is a writer from Calgary, Alberta. Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire and Contemporary Verse 2 and was shortlisted for Room’s 2017 Short Forms contest. In 2015, she was a residency participant in the Writing Life: Exploring Home in a Global Context at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She was born and raised in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Rose Maloukis : My (Small Press) Writing Day

                                           …Poetry arrived [late]*
in search of me.  I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river
I don’t know how or when…

Pablo Neruda

*my addition to the line

For most of my life I have been a visual artist and didn’t know that I had an undeveloped ‘muscle of poetry’ in me.  My writing days haven’t varied much from those in the studio.  I arrange blocks of consecutive days without any commitments or appointments.

I’m up around 8 a.m. and get to my desk, 9-ish.  I flip through emails, flag a few, check a few sites, skim/read a bit of The Guardian and look through an architectural design site.  The latter leftover from a different life. 

I breakfast in the studio and make notes while I eat, small phrases, (I eat those too) reminders to change the title or the format or, or… notes are endless, not limited to breakfast or locale.  When I get around to it, I transcribe them to a running doc. They get stored by date and saved in folders by years.  Where is that bit about silver?  Ctrl+F — always a thrill.

The first bit in the morning is a sorting and deciding what, if anything, is calling to me. When I began writing poetry, I’d get so excited by getting something down that I wanted to show it to someone, immediately, at least by email.  I’m ever grateful to those practiced and patient poets who were on the receiving end of my enthusiasm. 

I’ve learned to sit with a poem now, and can equate it with painting.  Some canvases are done in one sitting, most take many many sessions and some — years. 

My main work time is spent revising; moving lines about, verifying that a word means what I think it means, researching to see if the bird really lives in the altitude of my poem, mountains, and (I’m speaking literally here) if it’s endangered.  I work, often overwork, the same two or three poems for several days, then leave them alone for a week or so, unless one of them calls out with a new line, a new slant.  Having let them rest, when I return it’s easier to see if I’ve written mere verse or if there’s potential for an actual poem.  

What starts me off on a new poem is typically something I’ve seen. Something that lights up dots of connection to whatever I’ve been thinking about, for example; the disintegrating environment has had a significant place in both my painting and writing, particularly in relationship to birds.  

I write in longhand on a thin lined paper attached to a clipboard.  I gather those handwritten beginnings into sheet protectors along with first drafts in Word.  For the present, my most satisfying poems are short ones. I think that after I’ve said what I wanted to say, or let the poem go where it wanted to go, what else could I add.  If I do write a long poem it often ends up reading as two separate pieces.

Times when I can’t get anything working, I look for possible homes for my poems.  Also, I keep a list of them and record where I’ve submitted each one, color coded — love Excel. 

I get hungry around 2:00 at which point I can’t concentrate.   I find lunch, whatever’s there that doesn’t take any time, hopefully leftovers.  I actually hate leftovers, wish I could be a breatharian, not bother with the interruption.  But I eat and check messages. 

I still haven’t spoken to anyone.  And, I work in silence.

I continue until around 4:00 then knock off to have a cup of tea with a neighbor.   If no one’s around for tea I read, poetry or about poetry, for an hour or so.  Maybe I’ll remember that the laundry I put in at breakfast has to go into the dryer.

As an artist, I needed a studio to do the type of work I did but even with a designated room full of a writer’s paraphernalia, I write everywhere.  The time frames aren’t regimented.  They expand and contract daily, seasonally.  I seldom work at night, but it has happened.  I rarely liked painting commissions and that’s carried over.  So far, I don’t enjoy writing poems on a theme.

Also carried over from my painting practice is the habit of never a day without a line. 

Coincidentally I had a teacher tell me to just write lines.  It’s the equivalent of getting the paint on the canvas.  Made sense.  I wrote a poem about that.

Rose Maloukis is a poet and visual artist, with a BFA from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan. She was born and grew up in the United States but has dual citizenship and resides in Montreal.  Her poetry appears in a limited-edition bilingual artist’s book, From the Middle ~ Sonoritiés du Coeur, which is held in the collection of both the national and provincial libraries.  She was short-listed for the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize and two poems were published in Matrix Magazine, Issue #105. A winning Second Place poem has been published in Geist’s 2018 Spring Issue #108.  Her chapbook, Cloud Game with Plums is forthcoming from above/ground press.