Monday, August 20, 2018

Sarah Venart : My Writing Day: August 6th


Today, I steal time to write between breakfast and lunch. 
I have a desk in a room I call mine but it is our guest room, our linen closet, and a cosy art gallery for my daughters’ artwork and for the notes they slip under my door to tell me they miss my attention.
I book time to write at least once a week.  I actually book it in the calendar at our family meeting.  By announcing my intention, everyone in the family-- including me— takes me a little more seriously as a poet.   
I sit to write at a small teak dining table that wobbles: probably the reason I found it on the street ten years ago.  I fold Stickie notes over Stickie notes to make a Stickie pad that I place under the pedestal leg and this helps make things more stable.
I write longhand, for at least my poem drafts, using lined Stickie Notes from Staples, a Papermate 2HB pencil and a Tombow eraser.  I like how cleanly the Tombow erases.  Because I draft repeatedly in pencil on the same document, it’s important that things remain as clear as possible.  I love my yellow Stickies:  I use them for ideas, lists, words I don’t know, or words I might be misusing (loads of these) as well as my poem drafts.  Some people think that’s why my poems are structurally small-ish; I don’t think so: I run the poem up the sides of the Stickie if necessary. 
If I have no time to work on an idea, I write the words down at least, then toss my Stickie onto the inevitable pile of Stickies on the desk. There are five Stickies here this morning. In the interest of transparency—which we need so much more of these days—this is what’s here today:
1)      The trees are dropping fledglings like crazy--  I’ve stepped on three birds this morning.
2)      The aloe had a brown jasmine flower in its pot this morning; therefore the Jasmine fell in love with the aloe last night. 
3)      I want to forget you, first love.  I’d like to move on now that I’ve been married twelve years. And you were such an asshole anyway.
4)      Can you make a taco lasagna with tortilla chips?
5)      I despise lying in others like an ex-smoker hates smokers. I sneak lies on the back porch--

Some of these are not going to make it into poems (Taco lasagna and first love, you two go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief).  But I don’t throw anything out. 
This morning, I read through the Stickies, turn on the air conditioner (to cool down the rest of the house) and walk out.  I feed my daughters some granola and send them to read or play with Lego in the living room.  I feed our old blind dachshund and carry her out to pee in the backyard.  I go for a short run. I go back to my table and pay MasterCard.  I read a poem from Poetry magazine. I take one Stickie—the one about the Aloe—and write a first draft of a poem.  It’s as terrible as it sounds like it might be. But it’s a first draft.
Halfway through a kind of okay revision, I hear something floats under the door on a current of air.  It’s a telegram: my daughters want me to come out.  Olive is eleven years old.  Alice is nine and I’m conflicted about their interference.  But mostly I listen to the words of my mother that are this voice in my head since she died ten years ago.  And she says to me: the girls are yours for a short time; poetry is here for good.  So my time at the desk ends for today. We bike to the pool and hike trails by the river. We go to Claire’s to buy earrings that don’t hurt sea creatures!  This is an important and difficult hunt (if you’ve been in Claire’s, you’ll know what I mean) but Olive is obsessed with the plastic island in the ocean which she has seen in a magazine. Wherever we go, at my girls’ insistence we search out the translucent yokes of beer can packs and break them apart with our hands.  Olive hopes to save porpoises by doing this.  I hope she’s right (the irony of the Lego she loves also causing harm is not lost on her: it’s something we just can’t face yet).
Before bed, I read course material for my day job or I read the New Yorker. Using my Stickies, I write down words that I like, or descriptions or ideas. And I go to sleep hoping tomorrow will give me the moments I need before my daughters’ next messages float under the guest room door. 


Sarah Venart used to write under her initials, S.E., but screw that.  Sarah's writing has been published in Numero Cinq, Concrete and RiverNew Quarterly, Malahat Review, FiddleheadThis Magazine, Prism International and on CBC Radio. She is the author two books: Neither Apple Nor Pear/Weder Apfel Noch Birne and Woodshedding. A new collection, I am the Big Heart, is coming out soon-ish. Sarah lives in Montreal and teaches at John Abbott College.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Kristin George Bagdanov : Diurnal Writing


“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I once called this statement by Annie Dillard to mind daily. However, this mantra has soured as I’ve grown older, as I now cannot help but feel the tug of productivity, the dissection of time into manageable segments, latent in its profundity. When I first heard it some years ago, its self-evident logic felt like truth: of course, time unfolds moment by moment and the sum of those moments constitutes our lives. Now, I resist its simple arithmetic: the idea that a whole is merely the sum of its parts, that a whole exists at all. What about the unmeasurable movement between hours and days, how other people spend our own lives, or how parts accumulate and exceed the shapes we’ve established?

view from my writing studio window at VSC
Last summer, I set out to find a new mantra of dailyness. Of parts and wholes and the spaces between them. Most of our lives are measured by the hour: the wage-hour of making a living that prevents us from living a making. I wanted to investigate this measured labor in poetic form, but to do so I needed a residency—time paid for off the clock. Thus, I spent the month of July 2017 in residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where I made a chore of the thing that once released me from the mundane repetition of living.  

My project “Diurne” progressed according to the following procedure: For the entire month of my residency, I wrote a line / segment / sentence every hour that I was awake. The first thing I did each morning was grab my notebook and write something. Sometimes it was a half-coiled dream that unraveled as I wrote. More often it was simply about the sensation of waking up. The only rule I maintained was that every hour I had to write…something. The results, you can imagine, were mixed. Sometimes, with nothing to say, I recorded the words of others: a book I was reading or people I overheard. Sometimes I simply commented upon the previous day’s record, remediating it rather than feigning inspiration.

As the days accumulated, I established a new routine: every morning, after writing my first line, I would read back through the previous day’s record, transferring lines from notebook to computer, revising and cutting here and there but never rearranging the hours they registered. This work was a tender balance of wanting to preserve the record of making while also recognizing that the language I had at my disposal after three drinks at 11pm was radically different than my usual range. These “poems” hung together as units because of their production, rather than any particular theme or affinity. They charted my mind and how it interacted with information throughout the day, even at its most uninspired and lackluster moments.

Below is an image from my notebook on day two, with the revised and typed excerpt next to it:

I am told no one wants to read a poem that keeps reminding them it is a poem. You should take a nap instead.

When I say immediate I mean the substance at hand: sky, river, human, car, finch. See also: ddt, solo cup, exhaust.

When I am unmade: teeth radiating their signature after history. Postpartum of the world finally giving up its human.

I am afraid there is not enough personal information in this poem. My credit card # is 4060-5678-6500-8040, exp: 12/21 ccv: 866. I get points for every $.

Possible futures:

One in which dogs are drinking beer on the lawn of a small town

One that defines the human by sealing it shut: flesh into stone, which we say we are least like

One that turns earth outside-in, burial of shit that drifts on the surface

Method: I pulse the structure that subsumes me

Writing “Diurne” helped me debunk the myth of lyric immediacy I often confronted in poetry by making the writing process durational rather than inspirational, work rather than epiphany. It was a project weighed down by mediation, that often had to muse upon its own making as a way to pass the time, that could not erase the traces of labor that kept it pinned to the ordinary. In short, it became about the labor of art and the art of labor. As part autobiography, part journalism, part theory, part apology for not being poetry, “Diurne” accounts for how I spent my days while resisting any arithmetic that might try to make of it some greater whole or meaning.

After I completed the project, I luxuriated in not writing every day. At least not every hour. The sensation was similar to when, as a child, my sister would pin my arms to my sides as I strained to raise them. Once released, my arms would float upward as if by magic. The buoyancy of my own coiled energy had gained a life of its own beyond my will. The sensation spent me, rather than me it. This feels like the truer gesture of making. 



Kristin George Bagdanov earned her M.F.A. in poetry from Colorado State University and is currently PhD candidate in literature at U.C. Davis, where she is writing about cold war poetry and nuclear power. Her first full-length poetry collection, Fossils in the Making will be published by Black Ocean in 2019. Her poems have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from Boston Review, Colorado Review, Zone 3, and Puerto Del Sol. She is the poetry editor of Ruminate Magazine. More at: kristingeorgebagdanov.com / @KristinGeorgeB

Thursday, August 16, 2018

NO NEED TO CRY: ONE POET'S WRITING DAY by stephanie roberts


Before I rise from bed, I see a waterfall, impregnated by spring melt, two hours from cell tower reception, at the end of a one hour canoe trip and four kilometre hike, with bear canister and a double IPA reward, on a lake in the Mauricie.

The Nashville Review has sent a rejection. My third from them, but first signed with the editor's name—hoping I will submit in the future (crowned with exclamation mark).

Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. – Cadet Maxim

Morning begins with a double espresso long. The only coffee I have all day. I once tried to make a box mix cake before I'd had my coffee and managed to incorrectly measure two of the three ingredients, even though odds are, I could come into your kitchen this minute and make a cake using whatever I can find in fridge and pantry without measuring. No serious anything is attempted around here without this first sacrament.

Waiting for the brew, I water roses, lilies, honeysuckle vine, documenting the seasonal evolution of backyard horticulture for the Instagram (@ringtales). A dotted flutter alights among the Rudbeckia. On closer examination, I see a butterfly with blue iridescence unlike any I've seen in North America. I hold my breath taking pictures; I want it wings up and wings out.

I hope if you are someone who blushing (or boldly!) introduces yourself as a poet that you won't care overly about what I say next. Let the following be amuse-bouche. The way I watch Donnie Yen in Legend of the Fist for pure hand-clapping pleasure with no aspiration whatsoever to better my kung fu.

A year ago this would've been brief. Coffee. Anarchy. Lunch. Anarchy. C'est tout! However, last year, under the buttery goodness of success, my publications increased to a point that the imposition of system became a necessity for sanity and continued efficacy.

Whatever talent I have, I viagra with diligent effort. I collect research, deal with the business of getting published, generate new work, and revise and edit previous work, in varying combination, from 9:30ish am to 3:00pm Monday through Saturday. I've kept a full work day Christmas day for the last three years. I only purple my lips with envy over Jack Gilbert's writing environment. Let me live half-starved in the Greek countryside, in love, fucking the square-shouldered consenting citizenry or be Robert Lax.

I start work by resisting the compulsion to edit and post pictures of what turned out to be locally extinct female Karner Blue butterfly. I get another rejection notification that speaks of the refused offering in such glowing terms that I am almost as happy as if it were an acceptance. They lauded work that I'd grown uncertain about. The praises encourage me to keep faithful in sharing them.

10:00 AM, I spend almost an hour writing my mentor whom I've neglected to respond to in over a month. Devilled by obligation and desire every day, for a month, I wrote and re-wrote his name in my bitch-i-wish-you-would list.

12:30 PM, press send on a submission to a poetry contest. I continue writing until I'm lightheaded—my belly burns inside out and full of wasps. Leftover pizza will be my first solid food of the day. After lunch I check the mail—e and snail. There's a complaint from the city giving me 48 hours to cut the long grass (purple loosestrife) ornamenting the ditch keeping the Kitchisssippi River from running through my basement.

Half an hour later, I'm back at work and reminded of the tweet by @tashaaaaaaa, reposted by @amork, that said I wish I knew how to not eat my entire lunch in 10 minutes. I don't post any reply (she wouldn't be able to see it anyway @ringtales) but #relate.

I concentrate administrative duties, that take up half my time, at the beginning of the week and early in the day to increase the probability of true songs and my heart on key for the remainder. But, opportunities often arise that require flexibility in executing the daily and weekly agendas.

1:24 PM, I get an acceptance from a submission sent eight and a half months ago. I created a form letter which I personalize to each acceptance. Once there's agreement, I give immediate notification to any other press where the work was submitted. If I get an acceptance late in the day I give my notifications the following morning.

This process has on occasion taken almost an hour. It depends on how aggressively I've submitted the accepted poems. Publications that use Submittable are a godsend, however, once in a while a press will be closed to notes. Unless I've written in my notebook how or to what email address simultaneous submissions are to be given, this can take some detective work, case in point York Literary Review—no contact page, no place to leave notes in Submittable, no email addresses associated with their masthead, and the review's Twitter account closed to direct messages. I eventually found a name associated with the press on Twitter and left a notification in his direct messages even though it was obvious that his Twitter account was seldom used. I try.

I once had a journal, I respect and aspire to, send acceptance for work that had already been accepted elsewhere. I was fucking mortified. I checked, and sure enough, two weeks prior I'd left a notification removing the work from consideration. When I shared this with the editor, I didn't get any response back.

By 2:33 PM, after working on the edits for a submission due end of month, I'm beginning to wane. This is where civilized cultures inserted the siesta. Today, I opt to recharge ye olde metaphor machine with a quick and rare walk outside.

I'm creating new work for a specific call, I type SOON in bold red Helvetica 54pt, on the top of the page so that even with the document closed I easily apprehend its imperative nature. I prefer not to put a submission together and submit it on the same day. Sleeping on shit is a pivotal component of my creative process. Veritably, it may be the creative process. Tomorrow, I'll look over my notes on the press, give the manuscript a fresh listen and if nothing rings off or untrue, and I see a river singing in the voice of ocean longing, then I press send.

3:45 PM, at this point I'm knackered. I know from bitter experience to continue is the height of foolishness; any submission I send will have errors. I no longer have the capability to catch mistakes, make connections, or even compose correspondences. I wrap-up by entering notes and reminders in the calendar book and four journals that organize the literary carnival of me. I colour code everything using Japanese gel pens and a Xi Jinping sized army of Post-It Notes because I have the world's lousiest short term memory but a formidable visual memory. Pressing obligations get sharpied on the inside of my left wrist like I'm a ten year-old or semi-responsible drunk.

If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. – Debbie Millman

I have spent the day almost in complete silence. Alexa, play La Vida Es Un Carnival.


stephanie roberts has work featured or forthcoming, this year, in almost four dozen periodicals and anthologies. Her poetry has appeared with Verse Daily, Atlanta Review, FLAPPERHOUSE, The Stockholm Review of Literature, L'Éphémère Review, Crannóg Magazine, The /tƐmz/ Review, and {isacoustic*}. A 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee and recent winner of the Silver Needle Press Poem of the Week Contest, she was born in Central America, grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and is a long time inhabitant of la belle Quebéc. She finished writing this on Sunday her day off. SoundCloud.