Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Martin Stannard: My Writing Day

The last time I had anything like a typical writing day was when I worked as an operator at a BT call centre, taking (among more mundane enquiries) emergency 999 calls. In those days I would finish work at whatever time, go home, have supper, and write, usually with a bottle of wine to hand and music playing. Then, in 2005, I went to China to teach, which was very exciting and also very busy, and ever since I’ve written (a) when I’ve had time and (b) when I’ve been in the mood. (a) and (b) have not always occurred at the same time. In 2011 I began the One Million Elephants Couldn’t Begin to Understand daily “notations” section of my website, which was designed to make me write something – anything – every day. And that’s still going, daily, although its original purpose no longer really exists, to be honest. I am probably just a creature of habit.

I returned to the UK for keeps in February, and I don’t have a job because (a) I’m 65 approaching 66 and get some pensions and (b) I left China in large part because I’ve had enough of working for other people. I’m old. I want my time to myself, as much as possible.

So, with most days kind of “free”, how do I write in them? Well – it took me a few months to get used to being back in England, and to having so much time on my hands. But I’ve figured out that I have time to work and time to relax, and I can do as much of either as I please. I feel good when I have a productive day, and I don’t feel any less good or guilty if I have a day doing nothing. And of course I have hobbies that pass the idle hours. I enjoy horse riding and jigsaw puzzles, and my friend, the poet Eric Eric, has been urging me to take up tatting, but I don’t think I have the eyesight for it, or the interest.

In terms of writing, I always have a few things on the go. Apart from writing fresh and new and original genius poems (irony alert), I am also steadily working my way through translating and producing “versions” of poems from the great Tang dynasty era of classical Chinese poetry. Poets like Li Bai and Du Fu. Some have been featured in magazines, and I have an eye to publishing a collection of them at some point. This work initially entails basic translation, which is fairly journeyman kind of stuff, although little to do with the Chinese language can be classed as particularly easy; then comes serious consideration as to what I want to do with the poem in terms of working a “version”, and then there is the actual composition, editing, working and tweaking. This can take hours, or days, or weeks. It’s business as usual, in other words, because the same goes for my own poems with regard to how long they take to do. Sometimes they arrive quickly and need very little revision. Other times they sit around a while waiting for the right tweak, the right word, the comma removal or the insertion of a thoughtfully placed dash. Sometimes they sit around for ages then get thrown away.

Both the work on my own poems and the translations really have no regular schedule. It’s about being in the right frame of mind and the mood. I can write every day, and usually I do, but it might only be a few words. Other days I can write quite a lot, or revise something a lot. But there is plenty of thinking going on even when I’m not actually at the desk writing. Recently, for example, I’ve been writing several prose sequences – they are probably prose poem sequences – but quite how to present them and exactly what form they need to ultimately take has been occupying my thoughts for some time. The thinking is happening in the back of my head even as we speak.

And I also review on a fairly regular basis. That tends to be something I just sit down and do over the course of a day or two for any one book. But of course I have to read the stuff. Well, usually I read the stuff. Some people think my reviews are mainly negative, sometimes verging on the harsh and cruel, but they’re wrong. They just don’t realize how much dreadful poetry there is out there being accorded either undeserved accolades or, just as often, back-slapping plaudits from so-called reviewers who want to get their own poems published so won’t risk upsetting anyone who might know someone who might know …. and so on.

So, what’s a typical day? I get up when I’m ready to get up, have a cup of green tea, do my half hour of exercise on the yoga mat and the exercise bike, have breakfast (coffee and toast), and by ten I’m usually at the desk doing something, even if it’s not very much. I make myself do a couple of hours of some kind of work - and that will include reading, either something for review or something poetry-related of my own choosing -  in the morning, and a couple of hours of the same in the afternoon. Come the evening I might work if the muse (Mrs. Baxter) shows up, but by 8 o’clock I’m more likely to have had a couple of glasses of wine, a good supper, and will be sprawling on the couch in front of something on TV. I’m retired. I’m allowed to be lazy. Having said all of which, if I have a day where I don’t feel like working I’ll have a day not working.

Of course, what I’ve missed out is the shopping, the housework and the laundry, and the coffee or a couple of beers with friends (I have a few). And I decided a month or two back that weekends should be weekends. In China, weekends were often compromised either by my girlfriend having to work, which meant our leisure time was likely screwed up, and also by my having the usual commitments a teacher has: marking, lesson preparation, and the like. Now they are much more about lounging around unwashed, reading a real paper copy of the newspaper instead of the annoying website version, watching the football or something on TV, reading books that have nothing to do with poems, and sleeping when the body says sleep. So, it would appear that my typical writing day either doesn’t exist, or is a bit of this and a bit of that, and eventually things get done.

After 40 years in poetry world I’ve decided not to stress about any of it. Apart from sending stuff to regular outlets like Stride, I only get around to submitting work to other places two or three times a year. I find it a bit of a grind, to be honest, spending half an hour getting the stuff together, sending it off, then waiting six months for a reply. I know it’s part of the process, but I don’t get too worked up about it these days. What usually happens is that one day it will occur to me I should do it, and then eventually, on another day, I’ll dedicate a couple of hours to sending things I deem worthy out to somewhere or other. Writing is the pleasure, and having readers who enjoy what you write is a bonus, so while publishing is still obviously a consideration it doesn’t occupy a huge part of my thoughts beyond the fact that I have to produce work that’s good enough for strangers to read. Have to? Well, now there’s a good question …..

Martin Stannard lives in Nottingham, England. He was the founding editor of joe soap’s canoe (1978-1993) a magazine some people still regard as legendary. It can be found archived at http://martinstannard.com/jsc/jschome.html. He was also poetry editor of the online art and poetry magazine Decals of Desire (http://decalsofdesire.blogspot.com/). A poet and critic, his most recent collection is Poems for the Young at Heart (Leafe Press, 2016) (http://leafepress.com/catalog/stannard/stannard.html). Forthcoming is Items, a chapbook from The Red Ceilings Press.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Lauren R. Korn : my (small press) writing day

I am currently living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, fortunate to have the opportunity (one I may never have again) to live without an income. I have, since high school, always held a job, so I’m still trying to figure out what or which daily routine will most benefit my practice and my time. My partner, also a writer (a Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing), has their own daily routine, one that is well-suited to our life here; but I am still aimless in my pursuit of comfort, literary and otherwise.

I became a bookseller in the winter of 2013, plucked from my job as a pizza slice-slinger and dropped into a carefully-curated independent bookstore in Missoula, Montana. In 2014, I jumped ship, trading one independent bookstore for another, and I remained a bookseller until I moved to Fredericton last August. Bookseller became my mindset as a reader. I began to hoard books, both relishing in the galley closet of the bookstore where I worked and buying books by the armful; it became my job to know about forthcoming and backlist titles, titles that were selling well, and titles that needed my nudging. The books on my own bookshelves tripled in number. My routine, still influenced by this mindset, includes research—thumbing my way though publishers’ websites and scrolling through Twitter, a great resource, I think, for writers and readers alike. As you can see from the photo of my workspace, I write and work surrounded by growing piles of books and manuscripts.

The poetry I am writing now documents my transitional and home-making experiences in Atlantic Canada, which means that my daily routine consists of reading, analyzing, and translating my horoscope. I do this, because I am trying to capture the rhetoric of prophecy. It’s not that I want these poems to be prophetic; it’s that I want to complicate the relationship between the speaker “I” and the reader “you.” In conversation, I call these works in progress my “horoscope poems,” and I’ve collected them under the working title Other Modern Divinities. This is all to say that I have been thinking about the stars and about (dis)comfort. The following is the first poem I wrote in the series: “Your horoscope for Saturday, December 16.”

Today, your watchwords are forgiveness and surrender.
They are the same. You are a long, wool scarf

carried by a wind that slights you;
though this coastal humidity has kept your skin

moisture-rich, there is a dry patch between your brows.
Combination complication, an advocation: lavender baths.

Your bed-partner rises each morning before the winter sun.
You will never again get a full night’s sleep.

Your body is a compound leaf; or, it is an exposed, bare stem. You linger
in the sheets. Late to bed, late to rise. This is part of your aesthetic.

The balsamic moon you glimpse from your mattress is choking you,
but the salads you prepare every night for dinner have been on point

for months—mouthfuls of sweet corn, caramelized onions.
Wax sentimental, repeat recipes. You are cause for celebration.

You might head to the mall today.
In front of mirrors, be kind to your body,

its rounding and softening edges. When I say, “forgiveness” and “surrender,”
what I mean to say is, “your discomfort is not immutable.”

What I am saying is, “your discomfort is not immutable.”

Admittedly, I’m fairly new to poetry—though it has already served me well. It brought me to the Tin House Summer Workshop last year, to a workshop led by Mary Ruefle and her eccentric, singular perspective; and I’m a poetry reader for a number of literary magazines. It is often the case that I begin my day with full queues of poetry. Until I begin my coursework at the University of New Brunswick this fall, my writing time is practice and, above all, reading.

I am also the Interviews and Reviews Manager, and now the Director of Content, for The Adroit Journal. When I’m not receiving and responding to e-mails from readers, publishers, and writers, I’m reading and editing interviews, reviews, and blog posts awaiting publication. I came to this job in January, and it has become a part of my daily routine, be it weekday or weekend.

Writing constitutes very little of my literary citizenship—citizenship being at the heart of why I do what I do. It was while working for the University of Montana’s literary magazines, The Oval and CutBank, that I first felt the joy of bringing literature to life, of guiding a Word document from accepted submission to a typeset page in a journal or book—to a physical artifact (or, in the case of Adroit, a readied blog post or online issue). For many of my first months here, I was glued to my computer, designing and typesetting chapbooks and literary magazines. The pride I feel in a published, hand-held book—be it a journal of many writers or a collection of one—is like no other, and it’s a feeling that guides my perception of literary communities and of the publishing industry as whole. But really, I’m enamored by the minds of others, and I want my citizenship to be one of support and elevation. This makes sense to me: I am a Capricorn.

My (small press) writing day is at the service of your writing day. For now.

Lauren R. Korn is a poet and graphic designer currently living in Fredericton, New Brunswick. She is the Director of Content for The Adroit Journal and will be an M.A. student of Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick this fall. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Elaine Feeney : Typical Writing Day

I haven’t a typical writing day. I have no routine, no favorite pen, no set times, no set ideas. I’ve taught in the same town for eighteen years, and that’s a routine, so I like to be entirely unpredictable at every over opportunity I have. I love new poems, when they come along. That’s at any place or time, and I’ll usually write a note down of the idea. When I am in the middle of a project, I feel like I did when I was a new mother, traumatized and all over the place, and I find it hard to deal with the intrusions of everyday life when I’m in this headspace.

But a couple of years ago, taking myself incredibly serious so I bought a desk, a good lamp and a swivel chair. And in the vein of many great man poets before me, (I had just returned from Thoor Ballylee) I told my children that they were neither to interrupt me nor touch anything on my space, or there would be consequences. It seemed my life had been taken over with domesticity and children and work and pets and chores and there was a dinosaur or a football or a yogurt carton on every workspace I ventured near, and usually, out of exasperation, I’d give in, or give up.

But I’m going to give you a typical day, when I’m not teaching, (usually summer holidays) and I’m mid project and stressing about time.


I say goodbye to husband (who’s off to work. With people and lunch alone and no children) I like to get properly dressed, this includes lipstick. I make coffee, drink water, let out the cat, feed her, tidy the kitchen and hope the children stay asleep for three hours. I water every plant and flower that needs it. This is a long process.


I am mid way through emails, bank statements, bills, and friends’ texts. I deleted Facebook years ago, though I know trawling through Insta and back to Twitter, I’m forgetting something. I am locked out of Twitter, as my youngest son keeps a tight leash on my social networking time. But I know the password. It’s JeffyPencil. I gawk around on this. It’s 8.30 and I want to stick a pencil in my eye. Someone somewhere on Twitter has won something amazing. Someone else has just been published in the New Yorker. It’s good. I congratulate them. The coffee is coming back up, so I’ll eat a yogurt to settle myself. I pull a book off my bookshelf. I read a page. Then another book. I check my bookmarks on it. And wonder why I bookmarked that particular page.


Fixation on Yeats. And begin reading him, usually. To edit him. It’s the trip to a tower. I should have a tower.


Novel manuscript looks like a mountain, I flick thorough it, and it leaves nice paper cuts.


I think about my husband and the way he’d edit, if he were a writer, so I go to his desk and take his black pen. Danish I think, though it’s possibly Swiss. He wears headphones as he works, I consider this, but random lines of songs make there way into the narrative.


I read the first page. Novel title and my name. I hate it. I decide it’s the worst thing ever written. But I think of Stephen King, and his Nike approach to working. Just. Do. It. I text husband and tell him I can’t be a writer if I’m a teacher. Stephen King says so. That’s where I’m going wrong. Text back tells me that I’m on three months holidays. Second text. Go work in a Laundromat like King, might encourage you.


I continue editing longhand with the fancy pen. I light a candle, then another one. I am not in the least religious, but I am incredibly superstitious. I summon a chat with my dead granny and we have a laugh.


The edits are done. All ten pages, another 300 to go this week. I have one week for this job. And I’ve to write a poem. I think of O’Hara saying coke. I think of this everyday. Or how I’d like to go to a gallery now. Eat another yogurt.


I make the children lunch, put on a wash, hang out a wash, hang up a picture, put on more lipstick, polish the TV, clean up after lunch, send the younger child on the trampoline for exercise, I water all the flower pots, I wash the windows of the room I work in, later in the day as the evening sun comes down the streaks will make me go mental.


Older son takes off on a cycle. I consider throwing holy water over him like my mam did to me, but I worry incessantly until 6pm about him instead. Younger son is still in his pajamas. Husband rings for a ‘chat’ he’s been for a walk and finished a project, launched a website, did the grocery shop and is feeling good. I mummer something about the ten pages.


My mother texts to say she’ll pop in after work; I’ve an hour and a half. Fuck.


My friend texts to say something important.  I turn the phone off. I turn it back on and make a nail appointment. I read some poems on line.


I write a poem, it’s not great, but it’s a skeleton, that’s all I need. I feel some relief; I have at least a half-baked original idea. Younger son wants to go to the playground. In ten minutes I promise. I hang out more washing. I wash the floor. I do twenty minutes of edits. Ten more pages. Plod Plod Plod


Mum calls in. I cook dinner, son arrives home off bike, not injured and I am relieved but I play it off as if I don’t even notice his arrival. Husband arrives home, and I’ve burned the rice. He blames the bad pot. I blame the desk, I had just popped back for a minutes. Ten more pages. I like working in tens. I read aloud the idea for the new poem, early draft but he likes it. I take early draft to mean an insult. I abandon it. Husband’s had a good day. I’m thrilled. I load the dishwasher, he helps, but his presence is in the way. His encouragement is irritating.


Should we have wine? Let’s have wine. I fall asleep at 9 and wake up with headphones on and some Netflix series about the DeMedici’s is playing in the background.

Everyone is asleep except the cat and me. I edit again. There’s a page or two I like. So I’ll stick with it.

I consider shoving chair up against the wall. Like Stephen says. But now I look out the windows, see the hand torch of my neighbor, checking his stock.

3am Everyone dies at this hour, or so they say. So I sleep.

Elaine Feeney is an award-winning writer from Galway. Rise is her third full poetry collection following Where’s Katie? (2010) and The Radio was Gospel (2014), all published by Salmon. She published her first chapbook, Indiscipline, with Maverick Press in 2007. Feeney’s work is translated into over a dozen languages and is widely published. In 2016, Liz Roche Company commissioned Feeney to write for a national production to witness and record through dance, film and narrative, the physical experience of being a woman and bodily choice in Ireland. Entitled Wrongheaded, a film of the same name, directed by Mary Wycherley, accompanies the production. It premiered at Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival and was shortlisted for London’s Underwire Film Festival Prize and Bucharest Dance Film Festival Prize 2017. It is currently touring internationally. Feeney has just finished both a pilot comedy series, The Fannypack, with writers Aoibheann McCann and Aoife Nic Fhearghusa, which was highly commended by BAFTA, and her first novel, SIC[K]. She intends to take a break now and perhaps keep bees or make furniture.