Friday, February 22, 2019

Pearl Pirie : My (small press) writing day

Since it’s not a day for volunteering at the community centre, since the exercise class with our merry band of stretchers was cancelled due to weather, since I did a big batch cook yesterday putting a few days of meals in fridge and freezer, since I don’t have a headache, nausea from pain, nor vertigo today, I’m more free than usual to bear down and write. I woke at 10 instead of my planned 8:30 but at least it’s not 11 yet. As I write, the local Quebec power grid is down again for a few hours but we have solar backup.

For a lot of years, 3-5 hours out at a reading meant being useless for 3-4 days, but my energy has been more truncated from a concussion, so most of my time is well, rest. I don’t have many functional hours a day. I suppose rest uses up what others use on employment, kids and sleep deficit.

What time remains mostly gets used in making meals and other life maintenance, brushing the dog, connecting with hubby, and planning my ambitions to get a poetry class up and running.

I was awake in wee hours composing in my head; I jot that down to evaluate in a few days. I make sketches of an asemic chapbook. I explore making acrylic paintings when I feel non-verbal but today I have the verbals. I consider photographing my office as writing space but a) it’s a midden b) couch and bed are more usually my work space. Breakfast in bed with the cat trying to commandeer the boxes. Laptop bedside to move straight into the day.

Typical mornings, I review my to-do lists, comforted that even if it was an item from 2 months ago, I can check it off. I have to keep myself busy waiting for mail. Should be a newspaper day. Or my Frog Hollow chapbooks might arrive today. Slowing breath and tempo, I read more of Yellow Crane by by Susan Gillis.

After lunch, I peck away at something in a notes app. These days I grease the gears with NaHaiWriMo (National Haiku Writing Month, the shortest month for the shortest form) where there are daily prompts. I have always responded well to prompts. That probably amounts to under 10 minutes a day but like the 7-minute intense workout (which I don’t do yet), it’s enough to keep the brain more fit. You write more poems by trying than by waiting for “inspiration”. Take a breath and write.

I write differently than a decade and two ago. Not only because I was wed to non-lyrical and now am exploring them. I have no more desparation of all-afternoon sessions or 2 days locked in my office in verbal barfs. No 2-8 poems a day habit and every moment is a writing day. Maybe that’s aging, maybe that’s Maybelline healing. Maybe I have more of the repressed, angry, and unprocessed worked out. Maybe I don’t overstim myself into overload the way I did. Helps that I currently don’t have active stalkers and am not front-line worker with refugees anymore so that brings the baseline of stress down again.

When my brain gets full, I’ll nap or shovel snow, walk the dog, read about diseases of goat, or poll for new emails for doing data entry.

I’m currently working on cover and layout on a chapbook that may be out this May or June with phafours press.

I say I haven’t written a poem for the last 3 years, between managing a reading series and recovering from a concussion, but I guess I have made 50 or 60 poems from scratch that work well enough to polish. Mostly I edit poems from the last 12 years, getting manuscripts in order. I have 3 book manuscripts done, and 2 more underway. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was to find poems to submit but the rabbit hole of editing smells like carrots.

Pearl Pirie’s poems have appeared in 18 group chapbooks and 18 more single-author chapbooks since the mid-90s as well as 3 full collections with inclusions in some anthologies. The most recently published include Call Down the Walls (Frog Hollow Press, 2019), rob plunder gift (Battleaxe, 2018), broken fractal fractions (No Press, 2018), Sex in Sevens (above/ground press, 2016), An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion (words(on)pages, 2016), Salt Stains (Haiku Canada Review broadside, Feb 2016), Please don't tickle the salamander's belly (In/Words, 2015) and Reviews of Non-existent Titles (Shreeking Violet Press, 2015). Forthcoming, with éditions des petits nuages in 2019, is a chapbook of haiku.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My Writing Day - Meagan Masterman

My writing life is mostly a life of sneaking. I look forward to doctors’ waiting rooms, bus rides that take multiple hours, and other occasions when I’m forced to sit still. Mostly, I write in short bursts before getting called away by my unwashed dishes, precarious mountains of laundry, emails in need of a response, the allure of British procedurals, etc. I also work a full-time job.
Fortunately, I’m good at jumping back into a story and writing furiously during whatever time I have. Brief, intense writing sessions have become my modus operandi, even when empty hours stretch out in front of me. I write this now at my local library, where I’ve secured a quiet gap between my morning errands and an afternoon appointment. It’s Saturday. This is typical.
What’s typical, too, is waking at 8:00 or 8:30 on Saturday and puttering around for a while. Breakfast, listening a podcast or a record. I either go to exercise class or wish I’d made it to exercise class. I do some cleaning around the house, check and sort the paper mail.
A coffee mug is glued to my hand the whole time. If I’m lucky, my favorite mug will be clean and waiting for me on Saturday morning. The mug’s white surface features three yellow squares with green borders. The squares look like trading cards. On each card is an illustration of a Hawaiian plant: apple banana, dwarf croton, monstera deliciosa. I learned that last one means “monstrous delicious” but for years my untrained eyes read it as “delicate monster.”
I got this mug at a Goodwill in Seattle. I had just moved there with very few possessions and I felt very alone. I was approached by a woman who worked at the Goodwill. She said that I might like the mug in her hand, meaning the one that has become my favorite mug.
She said there was another mug that she was about to put on the shelves, but I looked like someone who would like it, and she wanted to give it to me. It had a droll cat with the caption, “You’re nobody until you’ve been ignored by a cat.” I still have that mug, too. Sometimes I think of myself as a monstera deliciosa, but in that moment I felt good. I felt renewed by random kindness, which is a powerful thing and something I write often about.
Around 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning I’ll get down to business. If I’m kicking off a project, I’ll write longhand. It’s physically satisfying and offers fewer distractions than my treacherous laptop. If focusing remains difficult, I’ll turn my phone off and hide it in a drawer. For the next couple hours I’ll engage in something I thought I developed on my own, only to tragically discover it’s called the Pomodoro Technique and it made its inventor very rich some years before I was born. Another fortune missed. I write for about half an hour followed by ten minutes of zoning out or playing a game on my phone or browsing Instagram or otherwise disposing of my time in a pleasant and unproductive way.
Later in a project I’ll type up what I’ve handwritten. This serves as an editing pass and a painful reminder of why in primary school my penmanship was rated on a 1-4 scale as 2-. The resulting typed document I call Draft 1.5. I end up with three drafts in the end.
Around 12:30 or 1:00, I’ll take a real break and go off to do whatever the day demands. Around 4:30 or 5:00 I’ll write again until it’s time to call it a day, usually around 6:30 or 7:00.
These are the concrete parts of my writing day, but a great deal of my process lives in my head. I conceive of scenes and dialog during slow walks around my neighborhood, sometimes aimless but often with a destination. I’ll write down notes in my phone. Between 1:00 and 5:00 this Saturday I did a lot of that as I slowly walked to the library and then on to my appointment. I thought of a scene where a woman eats ice cream in her car. It makes sense in the context of the novel. I promise.
At 6:30 or 7:00 I’ll cozy up with a British procedural or leave my home for the purposes of socializing. It will have been a good day, even if the weather was bad or the errands were many or the coffee was weak because I’m too impatient for my French press. It will have been a good day because I got to write. Because I have a room of my own. Because I had something to say and I said it.

Meagan Masterman is a from Maine, living in Massachusetts. Her manuscript “What Dies Inside” was shortlisted for the 2018 Metatron Prize. She co-edits the journal Reality Hands. Her work has appeared in Funhouse, Maudlin House, Ghost City, and more. Find her twitter at @meaganmasterman.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Trevor Ketner : my (small press) writing day

I had a friend in graduate school who would wake at five every morning to get at least two hours of writing in before his day started. He did this every day. He was, of course, a prose writer and a very good one at that.

I am not a prose writer and the grind of writing everyday not only doesn’t appeal to me, but also has never rendered good work from me. I’m something of a time-magpie and I gather and pile up as many flashing shards of blue time as I can to write—an idea comes to me on the train I’ll jot it down in my phone’s notes, I’m lying in bed trying to sleep and a line suddenly crystallizes so I roll over, hit the lamp (thankfully my husband sleeps heavy) and get it on paper before it’s gone, I’m in the tub and repeat a line as I dry myself off so it doesn’t go down the drain like so much tepid water.

New York, for all its storied history of poets and writers is not a city built for writing or writers. I don’t know a single poet my age living who doesn’t have to hustle sun-up to sundown to cover the bills. I work a full-time job as an editorial assistant in children’s publishing and act as a freelance editor, mostly for women’s interest novels. When you add in sleeping, eating, drinking (quite a bit of that to be honest) there’s really not much else one can do with what time is left.

But sometimes, some magical Saturdays or Sundays, the day opens up before me and I can step into the fantasy of what I’d like my writing life to be every day:

6:00-6:45am – Wake and brew English breakfast tea, leaving it to steep as I sit for what I wish was my daily Buddhist meditation

6:45-7:15am – Shower, being sure to put my hair up in a bun hoping for curls and waves later in the day

7:15-7:45am – Do a tarot reading at the kitchen table where I’ve gathered all the work I hope to contend with that day and—the light through the north-facing window in the morning is truly rejuvenating; the reading will often to address specific life or internal blockages that have kept me from writing

7:45-8:00am – Waffle about what to do first: read, write, revise, review (I write book reviews), or submit poems to magazines and manuscripts to prizes (I pretty much always end up making toast and eggs instead)

8:00am-12:00pm – Finally sit and hammer out about half of what I wanted to get done in a flurry of fairly erratic activity (most of my work is produced in these manic [perhaps clinically manic] bursts; my first chapbook Major Arcana: Minneapolis (Burnside Review Press, 2018) was written over the course of three weeks as I learned to read tarot and prepared to move from Minneapolis to New York; I wrote a second chapbook-length project on Robert Rauschenberg over two weeks after visiting a retrospective put on at MoMA five times); often I will move from one project to another, spending time with someone else’s work until it sparks something in me, then I begin writing my own; drafting new work often leads to a new understanding of old work and gets me started on revision which can be so taxing that I need a break and so return to reading the work of others etc

12:00pm-1:30pm – Wake my husband so we can make lunch (grilled cheese or a salad with chicken maybe) or buy lunch (pizza, Thai, turkey clubs), continuing to re-wake my husband as we wait for butter to brown the bread or red curry to arrive

1:30pm-5:30pm – Try and fail to read all the books, write all the poems, and be brilliant while husband goes to a museum (and somehow still feel accomplished for having done anything at all when I could have played games on my iPad all day instead)

5:30pm-8:00pm – Make some elaborate dinner (recently we made pan-seared salmon with charred lemons, roasted root vegetables, and ice cream sandwiches with Tate’s cookies and salted caramel gelato)

8:00pm-10:30pm – Drink too much Côtes du Rhône while watching something stupid in bed (when it’s me and my husband it’s Schitt’s Creek; if I’m watching something on my laptop by myself it’s either Midsomer Murders or a cooking show where they make me feel okay about how much butter I used on the grilled cheese)

10:30pm-until the next morning  - Chew two melatonin gummies and still sleep badly

Now this kind of fantasy is only made possible by my regular and obsessive reading habit. I had a grad student teacher in undergrad who told me we should be reading two hours for every hour we write. I find I need even more than that myself. I’m currently reading The Spirit of Zen by Sam van Schaik (Yale University Press, 2019), Doomstead Days by Brian Teare (Nightboat Books, 2019), Natality by E.G. Asher (Noemi Press, 2017), Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (New Directions, 2011 (facsimile of 1923 edition)), Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 2019), and Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry (Grove, 2019).

When I can’t achieve this sort of blissful transcendence I grind like everyone else through the day and sometimes am gifted a poem. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get a residency so I have concentrated time. But ultimately the cornerstone of my writing life is simply that I do it, that I simply keep on writing.

Trevor Ketner is the author of Major Arcana: Minneapolis, winner of the Burnside Review Chapbook Contest judged by Diane Seuss and Negative of a Photo of Fire (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019). They have been or will be published in Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day, Best New Poets, New England Review, Ninth Letter, West Branch, Pleiades, Diagram, Memorious and elsewhere. Their essays and reviews can be found in The Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Lambda Literary, and elsewhere. They hold an MFA from the University of Minnesota and have been awarded residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. They live in Manhattan with their husband.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Michael Akuchie : Writing Day

It is morning but still dark here. My clock reads 6:35AM but I still feel blind in my room. My curtains starve the room of light and establish a certain types of darkness.  There's no power at the moment. I live in a Third World Country that struggles to provide power for 24 hours. Sucks to be a Nigerian because of that and many more reasons but I am in no mood to complain. I grab my phone and check my emails. New rejection letters with kind invitations to submit at a later date. There's one acceptance letter which I get to after scrolling past the rejection letters. I smile in the tiny glint of light my phone gives out.

"A life of doing nothing is death"
— Sylvia Plath

I go to Twitter to read some news, updates and  check up on my favourite presses, magazines and writers, poets exactly. Something from there always lights a fire in my heart and I think it's astounding that something so small as a quote or a short text could cause me to open my Word Document application and write.

I write with music playing. I have a rolling playlist that keeps experiencing frequent changes. However, some artistes/bands are never taken away. The likes of Coldplay, Kid Cudi, August Alsina, JCole, Eminem, Lil Wayne. Kid Cudi is my favourite in that list since his brand of music deals with depression and its effects. The fact that one can be smiling so brightly with energy like the sun but still have so many uncomfortable issues that strip off the glow on their face. The music is soothing. Reminds me that the art I create is no different from theirs. Especially Kid. My poetry is intense, introspective and revealing. I write with a heart that has soaked up many tears and unmentionable thoughts about grief, loss and drowning in the shadows of gloom. 

I do not write with my computer even if it's what my peers make their magic with. I use my trusted phone. I write with a dictionary application turned on so I can crosscheck certain words that may seem unclear to me.  I take time to write so that my prospective readers can enjoy my work to the fullest. I write for myself first but I have realized that having a handful of committed readers is gratifying for me and my mindset. It is comforting to know that some persons enjoy your work. Thrilling even. I can take up to two hours to draft a single poem.  Sometimes, I have really good days when I am blazing hot and I write up to five poems in a day. Then there are the days when I struggle within myself to churn out the will to even start a single line. I believe my poems must have interesting starter lines though I do not allow that belief overshadow my efforts. 

I try to balance being a poetry reader for Barren Magazine and writing my own poems. There's so little time in 24 hours but still I try to get what I can.  I read poems everyday. This is possible due to my subscriptions to and Poetry Foundation's online newsletter. It helps me a lot especially in the way of seeing new poets and different styles. I realize that reading more helps sharpen my thought process and I stand by this every time.

I share my work with some trusted friends who offer suggestions on how it can be made better. Over the years, I have noticed a steady growth in the quality of my work and it is amazing, really. Small things really do grow into great thing given time and effort.

'The only luck I know is hard work"
— Anonymous

There are days when the body does not feel inclined to make any effort to write and I know this because I start to feel weak, drowsy and lay down for a while. There are also days when my hands cannot stop typing and my mind cannot stop creating mental illustrations of the things I think about.  I believe in poetry as a version of art that comforts the pains we all face. It is not a lasting solution but for the fact that it relieves me at times, I cherish it and pour out myself into what I write. Every day is spent emphasizing the notion that I write because it straightens my life and gives me purpose in this cold dark world. 

"Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences"
— Sylvia Plath

"I write only because there's a voice within me that refuses to be still"
— Sylvia Plath

Michael Akuchie is a Nigerian emerging poet. He studies English and Literature at the University of Benin, Nigeria. His recent  work appears in Barren Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Ghost City Review, TERSE, Mojave Heart, Kissing Dynamite, Burning House, Neologism Poetry Journal and elsewhere. He is @Michael_Akuchie on Twitter. He is a Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine.