Saturday, June 23, 2018

Amy LeBlanc : my (small press) writing day

            My typical writing day starts with watching the birds outside my windows while I sip a strong cup of coffee. Most of what I see is pigeons, chickadees, sparrows, robins and magpies, but every now and then, I see something different. In February, I saw a migrating flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the crabapple tree outside my kitchen window. In summer, Northern Flickers build nests in my willow tree. Western Tanagers and Blue jays perch in the evergreens. Two ducks have recently moved into the green space beside my townhouse to lay their eggs for the summer. As I watch what I call my ‘morning birds,’ I think about how almost fifty percent of migrating birds die during their journey. For some reason, I find this prospect both gloomy and motivating.

            My best time for writing is either in the morning­ (I consider myself to be an unproductive blob after about one in the afternoon­) or late at night when I get a sudden surge of productivity and can’t sleep. I work full time during the week, so I fit in what writing I can during my lunch breaks and in the evenings. Weekends are my quiet days for writing and recharging after a week full of social interaction. Saturdays are my absolute favorite writing day. Most Saturdays start with an indulgent walk to the bookstore, ten minutes from my house, for a new read and a cup of coffee. If I’m feeling particularly smart, I’ll leave my wallet at home and remind myself that my bookshelves are already overflowing.

            In winter, I normally have to wrestle my cats for some table space, as I clean off the paper scraps, novels, journals, and poetry collections that have accumulated over the week. I open the curtains even if all I can see is white and grey to reconnect myself with everything around me. In summer, I take advantage of the weather and sit in my backyard to watch birds and bees that float by like blimps. Some mornings, a robin sits on the edge of my planters and the wind blows the smell of rosemary and lavender in my direction. I bring a shawl, a pile of books, journals, a big cup of coffee and my laptop outside with me and settle in.

            Whenever I start a new project, I decide which works and which writers I want to learn from and emulate. Lately, I’ve been combining my love of poetry and podcasts into one giant time consuming project. I can listen to podcasts while I’m at work or out for a run and generate ideas for what I want to do with them. I have a running list of lines and words in my phone and a few journals I jot my ideas down in. I feel a bit like a magpie, gathering scraps of information and history here and there. When I finally sit down and start writing, I have to sort through the messy nest I’ve built over the week.

            Some days, that nest feels like a big tangled piece of yarn. It’s all connected and everything that I need to write is there, but it’s knotted and it takes some work to get it out the way I want it to be. When I’m really struggling, I take myself for a walk and leave my headphones at home. While I’m walking, I remind myself that this is all part of writing. I don’t have to be stuck behind my computer screen for hours to consider myself a writer.

            I constantly have to remind myself that I’m always a writer when and not just when I’m writing. This past year has been a challenging experiment in adaptability. I finished my English and creative writing degree and began a degree in Education. In my undergrad, I was encouraged to write everyday and was surrounded by peers and mentors who were as hungry for words as I was. I also had deadlines to write to. Now, I set my own deadlines for writing and no one holds me accountable but me. I’ve felt a huge disconnect from other writers, even while I ran a small literary journal and went to readings, because I wasn’t steeped in writing every day anymore. In short, I stopped feeling like a writer.

            Now, I have a post-it note on my laptop that simply says Write something good today. It doesn’t matter if I write ten pages or half of a poem or one sentence that I am fiercely proud of. In the words of Kyo MacLear, “I like smallness. I like the perverse audacity of someone aiming tiny”. I’ve broadened my understanding of what it means to write and to be a writer. You’re always a writer and not just when you’re writing. You’re a writer when you’re washing the dishes, or running for the train, or noticing the way someone says a certain word, or watering plants in the garden, or organizing rejection letters in your sock drawer. Writers are always like magpies, searching for glittering bits in everything we see, hear and feel. It’s no wonder that each writer’s writing day is different. It all depends on what we’ve gathered to make our nests with.

Amy LeBlanc holds a BA (Hons.) in English Literature and creative writing from the University of Calgary where she was Editor-in-Chief of NōD Magazine.  She is currently non-fiction editor at Filling Station magazine in Calgary. Her work has appeared, or is scheduled to appear in Room, Prairie Fire, Contemporary Verse 2, and EVENT among others. Amy won the 2018 BrainStorm Poetry Contest for her poem "Swell". Her collection Ladybird, Ladybird is forthcoming from Anstruther Press in fall 2018.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Winston Le : Writing Day

My daily writing rituals tend to take up most of my mornings. I was once in lecture on writing process with the author of Ellen in Pieces, Caroline Adderson where she too preferred to write during the morning, which she described as being in this meditative zone of “no language.” Each morning, I wake up as a blank slate where my mind is empty, but completely free of all the noises and distractions of my daily routines from taking care of my nephew to meandering across social media. The morning is when I feel most prepared to write as I can calmly zero in on the writing process without stressing of any other responsibilities that come later in the day. It’s ironic that I’m borrowing Adderson’s term of “no language” as the poetry I write deals with my relationship with language from bilingualism to mistranslation and misinterpretation.
            On an ideal writing morning, I begin my day at 8:45am, but I don’t begin to write until an hour and half later at 10am. I start much earlier than my designated writing time, so I can make breakfast and have my iced coffee to jolt my synapses awake. By the time 9am rolls around I will pick up whatever book I’m reading at the time and read for the hour. As indicated from the photo, the book I’m reading now is a novel called Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis—a surreal and stream-of-consciousness depiction of a Holocaust doctor who is on his deathbed, but on the exact moment of his last breath, his life begins to literally and metaphorically “unwind” through his timeline. Throughout the novel, he experiences his life in reverse chronology from death to birth. It’s a quite interesting read as I’m fascinated by our humanist perception of nonlinear time and the emotional and psychological impact it leaves on us.
            I like to begin reading before I write as it sometimes makes me encounter new words that might help me in my own writing process. This is a rare occasion for me, but mostly reading beforehand helps me understand my own approach to writing by digging into the language of lines and sentences in another writer’s work to come to terms with what makes the words tick.
            I should preface here that I’m a project-based writer. Every poem I write seems be part of a sequence as a larger whole. Knowing this helps with my own writing process as even though my poems can be self-contained, they are also part of this bigger project which explores my Vietnamese diaspora identity through the shapeshifting properties of mistranslated and misnomer language. Even though my writing can seem fragmented and disjointed, there’s still a connection and continuity in the words one can locate as they traverse through my narrative.
            While I write, I veer from keeping track of how much time passes as all it does is add more pressure and stress on me, and if I’m doing that I’m more preoccupied about completing the poem than I’m with enjoying forging linguistic connections via writing process. When my mind is at its most disciplined state, I can complete a draft of single poem within two to three hours of a single sitting, but that doesn’t mean I’m done. In between my daily errands, I usually return to the completed draft to switch or change words, break up stanzas, alter or rewrite the title, etc…. I’m also obsessed with neologisms and kennings. I love making new words via the hyphen. During my weekly edits, I ask myself if I really need the hyphen there? What impact do these two words have on each other, if any? Are they more powerful separated in their single forms? The smallest change whether it be trading up a word for a different synonym or moving the placement of a comma really can alter the environment of a poem.
            In my writing day, language and time often intersect.

Winston Le is a Vietnamese-Canadian poet who resides in Langley BC. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and was the Outreach Intern for The Capilano Review. Through the Surrey Poet Laureate Program, he recently coordinated and curated Asians on Edge, an Avant Garde Asian diaspora literary event. He recently launched his chapbook, translanguaging, a sequence of poems that unearths the liminal space between the Vietnamese and English language via bilingual ghosts. You can purchase his chapbook at

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lucy Dawkins : my (small press) writing day

So, here’s the thing: I have no typical writing day, as I have no typical day, because I travel a lot (I model)… But this is me last Friday:

I am in London, UK. I wake 7.30am and start my exercises right away: stretches and squats, planks and stands – nothing too adventurous. There’s a gym at the hotel, but I’m flying back to the US tomorrow, so it isn’t worth getting to know. For one day, a hotel room floor is ok, if cramped.

I shower and dress and coffee. I check my phone. Message from my agent: Two more castings confirmed for June. That’s good. I do some writing before heading to the shoot, but it’s bad.

I pack a bag and leave, stopping for breakfast at a funny little café, a block from the hotel. I order scrambled eggs. I eat about half. The coffee is better. I jot down a few poem ideas, alliterations and acrostics, bits of palindromes…

I arrive at the studio 10.00am and spend an hour in hair and makeup. I scroll Instagram and Twitter. I chat with stylists and the other models. I daydream pieces of poetry. I’m dressed. Then the shoot begins.

I don’t know how much of a poet I am, but I’ve always loved playing with words. And it’s a good way to pass time otherwise spent waiting around – which there’s a lot of, in this business.

About a month back, I looked for an online space to exercise my wordiness. I thought I would open another Instagram account, separate from my modeling (confession: ‘Lucy Dawkins’ is a pen name). That didn’t work out. Then I found Twitter, which has these great poetry prompt accounts, and some fabulous poets too. I’m pleased I have discovered that world.

The shoot drags, but that’s never so bad when the clothes are comfy. I have a good amount of time undisturbed, and I write, among other bits and pieces, this palindrome: Slate me robots to bore metals.

I’m out by 2:30pm, and now have only an hour before resuming a fitting, begun yesterday, for an upcoming show. After a brief panic, I make it in time and everything runs ok.

I’m back at the hotel by 6.00pm for a long call with my agent. After that, I meet friends for dinner, but get back for an early night. I’m too tired to write. I sleep well, catch an early flight, and begin another atypical writing day…

Lucy Dawkins is a British-American gadabout, poetess and model, aspiring toward worldliness and wordiness. She has a leaflet out by Penteract Press and tweets her poems @lucykdawkins.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Stephan Delbos : My Writing Day

Sometimes writing involves not writing. These days I’m in a state of near-complete expectation, with three manuscripts under review at publishers—a collection of poetry, a novel and an academic book—and my wife pregnant with our second child. I’m poised for action to merge with actual, I’m crouched and ready to pounce. Thom Yorke says, “waiting for something to happen.” Guru says:
I’m ready to blast, ready to surpass and harass
I’m ready to flip, yeah I’m ready to dip with all the cash
I hold my chrome steady, with a tight grip
So watch your dome already cause this one might hit
Between my finger and my thumb this squat pen rests. I fill the wait with others’ words. I’ve been Transcendental since the winter so my day usually begins and ends with reading Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller. Kafka’s Stoker. Words like coal. Emerson warns against getting hypnotized by the writing of others and ignoring your own voice. Proust talks about the same thing. Reading’s easier. Books have always been important for me. Fuel and life rafts.
I make my living by writing and teaching writing. Every day I write and edit thousands of words. It keeps the joints limber and the larder jammed. During the week the real words come where and when they can. On weekends like this one, I can focus fully on my own vocabulary.
We live on a square in Prague. The largest clock in the country on a brick church just across the street reminds me seconds slip. But it’s translucent and made of glass, reminding me that time is relative; you can look through if you stare hard enough.
My day starts early in early summer. 4:15am sunrise. I’m often up with my son. But waking so early can mean I need a nap by 10am. Today I indulge because my wife takes him to the swimming pool. I’m reading Emerson on fate and power as I nod under linen sheets, happy with the thought of being free in my body on a Saturday, nothing I absolutely have to do.
I’m sitting at my table now, white curtains drifting breezily in and out of the window. A flamenco guitarist at the farmer’s market across the street plays “Spanish Caravan.” In college I could play that too. Got some strong coffee brewing. It’s getting too hot for anything but iced coffee. Love that cold kick.
I wanted to start this piece a couple weeks ago, packed compartment on a train to Dresden, knee-to-knee with Germans and Czechs, looking out the window at the long flat bright yellow plains of rapeseed in full flower. My writing days have always been flexible, nothing is ideal, and I don’t like to force it unless I’m on deadline. I’ve always been diligent. The deadline can be simple as lunch. Time loses elasticity and is completely finite. I don’t have hours to fill, I have minutes, and off I go.
A clarinet is playing and my coffee is ready. On the wall there’s an old map of my hometown, Plymouth MA. I like the feeling of being in two places at once, three if I include the text I’m writing now. I look up into the room and there I am in Prague. I look at the computer and here I am inside my text. I look at the map and I’m young again in my old neighborhood, fishing at Murdock’s pond, sledding down Burial Hill, looking across the harbor, sailing.
I just got a new notebook, I mean a paper notebook, and I’m wondering, hoping through what I’ll fill it with this summer. I used to write in notebooks exclusively, then type the manuscript on a typewriter, then on the computer. That way once it was on the screen I’d already taken it through at least two rounds of edits. It’s a good system if you have the luxury of time, which I have less of now. I remember how excited I used to be to open a new notebook, thinking about all the poems and experiences that would be captured there. It’s been a long time since I was a devoted notebooker. I’m trying to plan a project for the summer, when time feels more abundant. August is more or less accounted for, a second collection of Nezval poem translations. I started it last August, got about 3/4 of the way through, and now haven’t looked at it for almost a year. Fast year! But it’s due out in 2020 so there’s plenty of time.
Maybe the novel I thought was done isn’t. Maybe it’s only half done. Maybe the protagonist doesn’t die. Maybe his would-be in-laws come get him and it turns out he was having a nervous breakdown. Maybe the second half of the book takes place 10 years later as he looks over those old pages documenting what he thought would be his final days. Maybe he’s older, a little more settled, more medicated, a little heavier and a little nonplussed at the fire and brimstone of his earlier self, and envious.
Or maybe this summer I’ll finally finish that book of book essays, the one that will establish me as the founder of a new movement known as “Dirty Literary Criticism” (#DirtyLitCrit), and will be linked to the “heroic small talk and militant light reading” of my poems. Or what about that biography idea? The late morning light is changing, the curtains languidly wipe the air, my Macbook Air backlit screen automatically brightens, the wifi quits and I don’t care, I am writing. Keys do my bidding.
It’s June 2, 2018. I’m 35 years old. I’ve edited an anthology of poems and published a chapbook of poems, a book of poem translations, and more in the ether of journals and websites. I’ve seen two of my plays produced. I don’t feel I’ve accomplished anything. For a long time my self-esteem was directly linked with what and how much I was writing. Over the years my life has expanded and my soul has grown and now that’s not so much the case though I feel that deep nag still.
Writing happens, if you let it. But are these the right words?
First distraction: I check my email. A friend writes to me, a poet: “I think in grad-school, our heads are filled up with some strange fantasy of a ‘poet life’ of snacks, wine and readings, when really that makes up less than 1% of 1% of the experience. It is a lot of continuous engagement, with your own work, in some vast interior landscape, and the work of others.... So it’s good to connect with the outside when we can.” This feels right, and I’m jealous of his young eloquence and wisdom.
There’s a book of writers’ houses that shows all the beautiful spaces great writers have worked in. But the real writing is such interior work it doesn’t matter where you are, as long as it’s working. During my writing days, the actual writing is punctuated by clipping toenails, ear cleaning and the like, digging in the the grit of the self and the mind. Today is no different. It’s noon now and I’m debating whether I should take a shower. Is there more laundry to do? I get up and wander through the rooms. Look outside: the park is packed. There’s good food and beer down there. But no, not yet. I trimmed my beard last night so the skin on my face feels tingly, more alive, as if splashed with witch hazel oil. I still like how Kunitz said Wright was “sweaty with genius.” I wander the rooms more.
I have books. An academic friend the other day said he was considering renting an extra apartment just for his books. That’s a lot of books. I keep my collection slightly more curated but I love books. I’m certain I spend more time reading than anything else. My writing, as you can see, is often referential. That’s a natural voice for me in this nonfiction mode. Margaret Fuller and Frank O’Hara died on Fire Island.
The door buzzer. I let my family in.
Now it’s 2:15 pm. Everyone’s napping. If I’d gone for a run this morning as per usual I would be napping too. I’ve showered. I had to do some grading, took a shower, might fire up some more coffee. Don’t like to overeat when I’m writing. I did have a mandarin orange creamsicle. Always that delicate balance of calories, caffeine, hydration, trying to maintain the optimum equation for firing synapses and snappy thought language. Once took a road trip through Florida to skateboard, eating mustard sandwiches.
I’m thinking about carrying my paper notebook to BOHO, a cafe around the corner. They play good music not too loud with a sympathetic vibe. I’d like to map some ideas for this fictional protagonist, who he might be ten years later. For now stay put. Bill Evans Live in Paris, February 6, 1972. Often I’m writing with music, no lyrics. Lately even the horn is too much voice. Bill Evans and Monk. Their genius might be latent for the lay listener because theirs can be background music, unlike Ornette or Cecil Taylor. That stuff’s front and center. But piano, think Satie, originator of ambient, that instrument just sort of lubricates the air, gets things moving more smoothly, a little honey oil in the cogs of time.
My face feels dry from the mildly exfoliating soap I used in the shower. I go into the bathroom and rub  moisturizer on my cheeks, nose and forehead. It comes in a nice little green bottle with a gray cap. Then there’s always tickets to be bought, hotels to be booked. We travel a lot. This week my wife will be in Berlin, next weekend we’re in Vienna and at the end of the month Massachusetts. All that stuff’s taken care of for now though, I think. I’m trying not to look at the news. The sideshow at center stage. Being in Prague feels more fortunate than ever.
They’re closing down the farmer’s market. Bring on late afternoon. It won’t get dark until 10 pm. Who knows what will happen between now and then?
I’ve had a corn on my left foot since this time last year. Lately I’ve been using more aggressive techniques, so I go to the bathroom and apply these. In Czech a corn is “kuří oko,” which literally means “hen’s eye.” The Czech surrealist poet Vítězslav Nezval uses it in the title poem of The Absolute Gravedigger, which I translated a few years ago:
The gigantic man shrugs his shoulder
As if shaking off a coffin
To a foot
Afflicted with a corn
The eye of an arthropod
That breaks to the surface
From the little toe
Peeking through a split in his cracked boot
Nezval lived around the corner from here when he wrote that. In fact his great creative push toward the book happened at this time of year, summer 1936. Nezval was a great walker, the Prague flâneur. Lately I’ve been running more and walking less.
My wife wakes and asks if I remember where the burrito place is in Berlin with the vegan ground beef and smoky peanut salsa. I do. It’s a good one. I help her get train tickets. She takes a photo of me at my workspace. My son wakes. We do our “slap me five so I know you’re alive, slap me ten so I know it again” routine. Now they’re leaving to meet friends. I’ll stay and enjoy the rare quiet. I put sunscreen on my son. They go.
When I wrote the character I’m working on it was like looking into my alternate past, another possibility of what might have happened to me. Now I’m trying to look into his future and in so doing chart a possible path forward, but not for me, writing through an alternate reality, what might could have been if what had been was different. And I don’t even know if it’s a good idea. Maybe the novel is finished. Maybe I’m just spinning my wheels. I flip through a folder of old, unpublished poems. Written ten years ago on a typewriter in a little attic apartment on the other side of town. I used to tape my drafts to the wall so I couldn’t escape them. White streamers in summer skylight breeze.
Recently I’ve realized there are different types of time. There’s poetry time that’s very very slow. When my chapbook came out last summer, the oldest poems were almost a decade old and the newest were several years old. The poem manuscript I have at publishers now was originally written in 2012, which is about the same time I started researching the academic book. If I start a new project this summer it might not see the light of day for another 10 years. Then there’s social media time, news time, family time, life time, all running at different paces. Now it’s 4:15 pm.
5pm approaches. Oscar Peterson, Bossa Nova. Spin cycle. Jet engine. Matuška California APA. After I unload and hang I’ll read this over then go for a walk with my notebook and pen and hat and phone and keys and wallet and The Education of Henry Adams.
5:33 pm. I check my email again get me out of here!
7:44pm. After a couple hours mapping ideas about characters and reading intermittently at a BOHO cafe sidewalk table under a tree, I pay my bill and go home. Order Indian food. Our family eats together. Later ablutions. Then bed. To dream and be dreamt.
Stephan Delbos is a writer living in Prague. His poetry, essays and translations have appeared internationally. He is the editor of From a Terrace in Prague: A Prague Poetry Anthology (Litteraria Pragensia, 2011). A collection of visual, music-inspired poems, “Bagatelles for Typewriter,” was exhibited at Prague’s ArtSpace Gallery in May 2012. His play “Chetty’s Lullaby,” about the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, was produced in San Francisco. His co-translation of The Absolute Gravedigger, by Czech poet Vítězslav Nezval, was awarded the PEN/Heim Translation grant in 2015 and was published by Twisted Spoon Press. Deaf Empire, his play about Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, was produced by the Prague Shakespeare Company in 2017. He is the author of the poetry chapbook In Memory of Fire (Cape Cod Poetry Review, 2016), and a founding editor of B O D Y.