Saturday, March 31, 2018

Brenda Brooks : A Day/Night at the Desk

Coffee of course, a mighty brew steamed up in the battered bialetti espresso maker I’ve had for over 20 years.  I pour a jumbo cup then settle in to look over the previous day’s work, whether poetry or fiction.

I find working on fiction to be different psychologically, and even physically, than poetry. The obsessive quality of the latter is equal to fiction, yes, but also limited to smaller, easily broken up increments of time. Even though many drafts of a poem may be required, the whole experience seems calmer somehow, more quickly defined by a sense of completion. And if not, I might either delete what is usually not much more than a page, or drop it into a folder like the parts of an old clock to sort through later. Poetry’s got options, an end in sight. It rolls along like a summertime river with a few rocks thrown in and another view just around the bend.

Fiction isn’t like that. I might show up at 7 a.m  for poetry, and feel pretty pulled-together even in my jammies. Not so for fiction. Up at 4 a.m. Or 5:30. Up at 2 a.m. Or 3:17. Itching to get at it. Pale and wrung. Hair standing on end. No calm in sight. I don’t need a drink. I already feel drunk. The river I mentioned earlier has turned into the one from Deliverance, except there  might not be any. In fiction the ever-present obsessive quality becomes a charge that pulses through the entire first draft. If you’ve done a first draft for a previous book you know it’s going to be shit, just as Hemingway said. But the problem is: you don’t believe it. Not this time. This time’s different. This time you’ve tapped into some stellar vein of brilliant magic and the goddam thing reads like By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept right from the get-go. But low and behold: it’s not true. I mean, the sitting down and weeping part is true, but that’s all.

There’s hardly anything anyone can do to you that will hurt more than what you do to yourself after reading the first draft.

Therefore: I have several inspirational quotes tacked up in my office, a space which doubles as my bedroom, or vice versa. (Since it’s only two small steps to my desk, this makes it easy to find myself staring, terrified, at my first draft before my eyes are even open.) Many of these quotes are by Kurt Vonnegut. A few of my favorites are: “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.” And: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.” Or: “Start as close to the end as possible.” I run my eyes over these daily and never stop getting to the bottom of just how impossible writing fiction really is. But I’m buoyed by Vonnegut’s generosity in sharing them.

My last daily thought is one of my own, a little mantra that I hope will guide the writing journey towards an authentic voice in what is an increasingly noisy, manic world. And so, Note To Self: Writing and publishing are two different things. One is love, the other ambition. Keep all thoughts of them apart while doing the actual writing. Don’t put any conditions on love. 

Brenda Brooks [painting by Tonia Cowan] was a finalist for the In Canada First Novel Award for Gotta Find Me An Angel. She was also shortlisted for the Ferro-Grumley Award. She has written two collections of poetry and is currently at work on a novel about two women who get in trouble. Her hair is standing permanently on end and she is drunk on too many worlds, I mean, words.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Geof Huth : My Poetry Writing Day : 24 February 2018

I’m not sure if I believe in writing anymore. My thinking may have devolved to the point that I believe in poetry without accepting the evidence that writing exists. Or it is that I see poetry as so many things besides and beyond writing. It may be that I have debased poetry and writing by accepting so many vagrant means into the accepted ways of making of such literary devices. For a poem, to me, is nothing more than an engine to run a thought—or a feeling or just a word—through a person.

Every day, I proceed under the apprehension that something will cause me to make a poem, that almost no day will close without my forming a poem of the evanescence stuff of my day. The program of the poet is to be prepared for that small twinge of inspiration that might barely make a survivable poem, a thing one might care about, if one cared about words or what they do or what the replacements of words to do a person and why, and why it is important. Or why we wish it were.

I made in this day maybe twelve poems, counting this one you are reading at this moment. One lasted for but an instant—


—and then it was gone. I sent it out into the world as a sequence of letters, a coded message for the eyes, yet I created it for the ear, whispering what it might sound like into my own ear, hearing how it couldn’t work well enough unless my voice gave it breath enough to keep it alive—then imagining it the form of


and sending it out, unwhispered, again—maybe as a new poem, maybe as a revision, but thinking of it as a poem about the speaking of a poem through the body: coming from the head (worn with work), transmitted first to the arms (one entumored), and finally to the thumbs tapping it swiftly and silently out into space, that electronic and digital space humans inhabit when they forget they live in airspace, in groundspace, in trees-sleeping-until-spring-as-brown-but-waiting-to-be-green-space, and sent there just in case someone was listening—or someone was seeing well enough to listen to what was seen.

In the afternoon, I paused from reading and shopping and cooking and cleaning to make two poems, both out of scraps of ancient court documents so small and so removed from their home documents that I cannot repatriate them—one of these poems made inside a bell jar my mother-in-law had given us to hold a single ornament for an evergreen in the process of dying and one inside the distorting glass of a small bottle that once held a small quantity of artisanal tonic water. Both pieces of trash, because I make these poems out of rubbish, out of what has been left behind or tossed away, out of trash from the street, out of cloth tape and rough twine that once held together sets of documents, out of disintegrating ribbons and wax seals that had confirmed the authenticity of the files, out of straight pins and paper clips that held pages together, out of the bodies of insects (housefly and moth) that had died among these papers.

These are found and made poems that take decontextualized scraps and recontextualize them. I put fragments of words together with other visible but atextual pieces and create a poem out of text and textile and texture. I create little things to look at and read, because looking and reading are often the same process, the act of persons bringing information into their bodies. They do this not because they are required to; they do it because meaning is nourishment, because connection to another body even through nothing but the data a person presents to them is the human act of learning and knowing and coming to know more. In one of these little poems—consisting primarily of a single length of cotton tape decorated with a scaly textured spine of nothing but thread—there appear these markings, in no particular order except however each person sees them:

                of the Clerk of the
                                        in the City of New York.

                                                                [three loops of a pen]
                                                                                                                [another three, but different, loops]

                                                dn       [but these letters are upside-down, so “dn” is actually “up”]

                                                                                      [a pencil mark]

                [the slightest sliver of a the lowest reaches of a line of text, where the only recognizable part is
the bulbous-ended descender of a g or a j or a y, but which seems impossible to be any of those]

Yesterday, I was interrupted in the course of my day by a red-leather bound volume sitting among hundreds of shelves of others books, but this one bearing the arresting title “In the Matter of Bird.” (Merely a case title for a civil case without a defendant, because sometimes the most supposedly mundane phrasings stop me and allow me to listen to their possibilities.) I texted this title to myself yesterday, expecting to write my nightly lineated poem against this title, but I forgot and instead wrote a poem off the top of my head about rain and self and the holding of reality within the body of a person, and thus the separable and separate body of every person.

Tonight, I wrote—in a faux-red-leather bound volume that includes a bar directory for the state of New York—a fragmentation poem (something like the grenade with the same forename but less deadly): each line a fragment, a set of metrical lines (but only in that the meter of the poem matters but is inconsistent across every line), and nothing more than an imagining of the chaosmic flight of a small bird aloft within the wind of the earth and the wind of its own making. I keep this poem for myself now, but I will read it to my wife upon her waking tomorrow, and she will say it is good, and I will note that it is a failed little creature with no more than one unbroken wing.

Near the beginning of the day today, I made two little versi, poems in which I bind two words together by slipping the letters “vs” between them (in the manner of my friend mIEKAL aND). One of them was

run vs rum

—which I created in my head while “running” on a treadmill and I intended as a counterpart to the poem

gin vs gym

, which I wrote yesterday. These versi are maybe no more than word games, but a poem is a way to play with words, to play with meaning, to cause a little tumult in the mind of another.

I also created a few asemic fidgetglyphs, usually tiny visual poems made out of characters drawn or written to approximate the forms found within imagined writing systems. As the years of making these have progressed for more than a decade, I now create forms that are more logographic, eschewing almost entirely the use of actual alphabetic characters or written language. Yet I call these poems, even though they concern the making of shapes with ink and followed by my watching to determine when their expressiveness diminishes and I decide it is time to stop making them—until my imagination returns. I love cutting ink into the sturdy pulp of the paper, drawing lyrical curves or straight lines or expressionistic jaggedness.

As I was writing this, I remembered that I had discovered today that I had a small ovoid stone of granite, which I had decided could be the base for my next “stoen,” which is merely a poem of textual scraps glued to a rock or stone of any size. Most of these stones are flat and expansive enough to hold a collage of text that uses up dozens of pieces of paper to create a poem. But I thought this one would be small enough to hold just one piece of paper—if I could find the right piece. So I looked through my accumulated “wordscrapts” (as I call them) and found the slip of paper I needed.

This irregularly rectangular paper scrap was covered with the writing of a loose but firm hand. Heavy pen strokes predominated, some so deep (or the ink possibly acidic) that a slit appeared through the only whole world on the entire piece:


I glued this one piece across the top face of the stone, allowing the slit to show through as an opening, a rupture, and the aporia, in the text. I even took my microspatula and opened the slit a little and cleaned out the seeping and drying glue—so that the stone could show through the paper and the text, so that I could preserve and display the act that pen mark made more than a century before today.

A friend of mine, tonight, responded to my posted photo of pareidolia in beer foam in my wife’s glass (my caption was “Lascaux Beer”). He wrote, “I thought your glass was decorated with a band of horses. Just artistic foam.” My response was “Band of brothers, man. We will always be a band of brothers. Because those are the ones who die together.” And I think even that exchange—jokes and all—might be a poem, since I cannot tell the difference between poetry and life.

The music playing as I was writing this paused for a string of seconds and plunged me into silence, or the closest thing to silence I can find: a slight ringing in my ear and the muffled murmur of traffic a long way off and down. Within that breach of the sound enveloping me, I decided to make a poem by speaking it into a machine, by making it up as formed it, and I decided not to use the words of language but the glossolalia of the moving tongue. Such language is not really ever asemic in the way my fidgetglyphs are; this language is always filled with the meaning of the voice, that meaning beyond word, the meaning of tone and speed and pause. I was surrounded for over an hour with the aching sound of the Icelandic tongue, but I took not the sound of the language but the emotion of the voices from this music and made a little poem, one I could feel almost too sharply inside myself, as if I were actually telling a poem about hurt and pain. The mind of a poet is a strange thing and can even trick the poet.

The night has gone dark—has been dark for a while. I live in city high above the streets, with a view of the river, the harbor it slips into, and the opening of the sea it becomes, and I can sometimes hear only my own voice whenever my wife is asleep. Tonight, I am not quite done with this day of making poems, but all I have left—unless some other urge overwhelms me—is to continue to take poems I’ve already made and write them down over an over again. I’m working on a tiny leaflet of five poems of mine, poems written last month, mostly as I was driving to my office upstate. The title of the leaflet is “oieaux,” which also serves as the first poem in the book. Each of these is a poem in French punning off the word “eau” (or “water”)—except that one of them also makes a translingual pun in English. People generally sees puns as trifles, but to make a poetic pun is to be working fully in the medium of one’s work—in language, in a target language, doing what only that language can do.

I have already made these poems, so my poemmaking now is merely writing, but not writing in the sense of making some new written thing, but in the sense of writing the same thing down, in pen, over and over again, so I can have 100 copies of these poems to distribute to people, 100 copies written entirely in my own hand, everything on the pages written in my hand—and written on brittle acidic paper that will likely fall apart with time. Because the poem is not just its words; it’s also how its words appear in space, on pages, against the ear.

If I’m truly organized today, I will do an integral (but sometimes unmet) part of writing life, and I will collect metadata on all the poems I’ve created today and store that metadata in the little database I keep online so I can always look up a little fact about my writings and works. Because I’m not just a poet; I’m also an archivist, someone interested in records and driven by a need to document—because I’m drawn to words because they are human and because they are data.   

Geof Huth is a poet of mixed and many means. He presents most of his work (mostly nanopoems) into the maw of social media. He almost never finishes making a book of his work, and he never publishes except through his own presses, dbqp and pdqb, which produce very little. If he didn’t exist, there would be no need to create him, but he would still create.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dara Wier : Typical Writing Day

everyday I wake up waiting to get to where I write, which is sometimes at the kitchen table and sometimes at a desk I keep in a backroom where most of my books are, where all my poetry books are, where there’s protection, where books surround me with their elegant patience

every day to write is what I live to do, though no days turn out to be all that typical in particular if I write something that it seems to me impossible to believe I could have written it

when I’m lost in what I’m writing, I’m lost in there, everything becomes strange and wonderful

life has been understood by me—as little as I understand it—my life has been understood by me as always on edge, an accident about to announce itself, an incident getting going to be undergone, a disaster in waiting, waiting to happen, as if always there is a trap set near by, in 3D dimensional space or ordinary time—a trap waiting for me into which I am doomed to go, unbidden, undone

to live in a life always dangerously close to being over comes close to the way it can feel sometimes when one is ending a poem

this life on the edge may come from an early life living with farm animals whose existence is precarious, whose well-being is always endangered,

or tending to crops about to be spoiled by too little or too much water, insects, consequential acts of humans or extra-terrestrial beings—

the river will flood, the sun will relentlessly absorb all water and wilt everything with roots, a plague will descend, some one will catch hoof and mouth disease, someone will step on a rusty nail, someone will put a foot or fingers right where poisonous snakes take their stands, it’s always been touch and go

there is a water moccasin waiting under that plank bridge, there is a rooster who wants to take out your eyes, there are the meanest boy cousins on the planet waiting to torture you, there are parasites and worms, fleas, and ticks and mosquitos, wasps and more snakes, a mink can look as if it wants to eat your face off, some cows want to kick you in the chest, some cats scratch, there’s an uncle who can’t get through a day without tormenting you, karen crows are always high up there taking their time cruising on thermals, there is always a river both beautiful and dangerous barely out of reach of your doorstep

that’s the ordinary background before which I write

whenever writing begins to happen—it’s changed over the years—where and when, what’s typical shifts, transforms, meta-morphs, takes dead ends, takes round-about routes, goes off-road, and usually prefers to be near some kind of water—in one way living by the river taught me everything I needed to know—

over the years I’ve written on paper scraps, on brown paper bags, in pencil, on schoolroom lined pages, with fountain pens, in blank page notebooks, only on the right hand page, keeping the left hand page free for later additions, on a 1940s Royal table model my father rescued for me from a school depository, on a black & blue IBM Selectric my husband gave me, and now on this laptop

I wake up every day waiting to get to writing, my way is to always, which is never always—it can’t be—always to be if not writing, thinking about writing, or just about to write, keeping those magnets and channels and receivers in working condition, practicing

paying attention to how thoughts come into being, how thoughts beget more thinking, how words love to be used, how words love how they sound as much as how they seem or what they mean, how words love the nervous systems of syntax, and the long history of rhetoric, and how strings of words are weaving for us so many things we didn’t know to know before

before I had kids I wrote whenever I wanted to, except when I was doing whatever it was I needed to be doing to make a living, to buy myself time and circumstances so writing could keep on happening

once my daughter and my son came into this world, I wrote whenever I could, except when I was doing whatever it was I needed to be doing to take good care of my children

shirts with pockets in them were necessary, to be a place for whatever folded up page I’d started, whatever it was I wanted to think about writing that day

whether I took it out of my pocket to look at it or not, it was there, where else, right nearby, close by my heart 

they grew up, I went back to being able to write whenever I wanted to write, for over twenty years I wrote in my study at my husband’s house; we wrote in adjacent rooms from around 2pm until we’d finish for the day, this could have been at 5 at 6 at 7 at 8, depending; we could always hear one another’s loud bass-toned Selectrics humming along

he didn’t like it when I switched to a laptop, too quiet, he couldn’t tell what I was doing,  I might be doing nothing

he missed the bursts of  Selectric jack-hammering

but I could take a little laptop with me anywhere I went, so I had to make that switch

he and I agreed it’s best not to face a window when one is writing, too many distractions

he and I agreed the best thing that happens is you begin and end a poem on the same day 

we shared a habit of reading something,  just about anything, typically something nonfiction and rarely poetry, as a bridge between not writing and writing, keeping something going nearby

I keep a dictionary, unabridged Merriam Webster, nearby open on a stand, but not so near I don’t have to get up to go looking around in it

I may aim for one word in particular though my real mission is to run into words along the way

I think my all time favorite pre-writing zone up to now was reading all of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theodor over a period of maybe 7 months—that’s when I wrote the book I guess I confess has to be my favorite one, Reverse Rapture

Dara Wier was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her 13 books include in the still of the night (2017), YOU GOOD THING (2014), REMNANTS OF HANNAH (2006), REVERSE RAPTURE (2005), HAT ON A POND (2002) and VOYAGES IN ENGLISH (2001).  Awards include the American Poetry Review’s Jerome Shestack Prize, The Poetry Center Book Award, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Award.  Her poems are included the Pushcart Prize and Best Americann Poetry anthologies.  A limited edition, (X IN FIX) (2003) is #10 in RainTaxi’s brainstorm series. With James Tate, she rescued THE LOST EPIC OF ARTHUR DAVIDSON FICKE, THE AUTHOR’S ANNOTATIONS, COMMENTARY, AND NOTES OF REFERENCE FOR A MILLENNIUM’S TEARDROP (1999). Poems can be found in Granta, BigBig Wednesday, The Nation, American Poetry Review, Conduit, Volt, Denver Quarterly, Octopus, Gulf Coast and so on. She's been poet-in-residence at the University of Montana, University of Texas Austin, Emory University and the University of Utah; she was the 2005 Louis Rubin chair at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.  She is a member of the poetry faculty of the mfa program for poets and writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  She co-founded the Juniper Initiative for literary arts and action at the University of Massachusetts, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute and Workshops, and is currently serving as publisher and editor of the poetry and found prose and images journal jubilat.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sharon McCartney : my writing day

I have never had a writing day. When I’ve been employed outside of the home, I’ve never had a job that allowed for writing time. When I wasn’t employed outside of the home, I was too busy with stuff at home. I wrote when and where I could. Often, I didn’t write because there was just too much else to do. My first book, Under the Abdominal Wall, wasn’t published until I was 39. It was written in scraps of time over the years from high school to relative adulthood. In those years, I worked various shitty jobs, gave birth three times, went to law school, changed diapers, scrambled, scrambled. Poetry came after the dishes were done. They were never really done.

From 2000 to 2005, other than a few contracts and sessional lecturing, I did not work outside the home. My second book was written in that time, mostly in my head, while I walked my little black mutt named Victor. My three boys were young and I was happy to be with them. As well, early in 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. All through that treatment and recovery, I got up in the morning, got the kids out the door and off to school and then walked the dog and worked through poems in my head. Those poems became my second book, Karenin Sings the Blues, which I should have dedicated to that dog. He was killed by a car in front of our house, two days after Christmas in 2003.

I went to the Banff Centre’s Writing Studio in 2004. What a miracle. Five whole weeks in which to write. At Banff, I wrote most of what became my third book, a book of dramatic monologues called The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is the closest that I have ever come to having a writing day. Every day, after breakfast, I returned to my room, made a pot of coffee and propped the pillows up on the bed. I wrote, I drank coffee and, in the afternoon, I walked up and down Tunnel Mountain. I filled a notebook with poems. Such happiness.

After I returned to full-time outside-of-the-home employment in September 2005, writing became an early morning event. The world is quiet in the morning. I got up at 5 a.m. each day so that I could have some time with books and my notebook before work. My marriage unraveled and that worked its way into the poems. Financial and emotional independence became issues of great importance for me. My job addressed one issue and my notebook addressed the other. I wrote and wrote, but only in the predawn hours. That became an angry book of diatribes called For and Against. I regret the anger, but not the poems.

As the years progressed, my early morning writing hours also became workout hours. I had to get up even earlier, so that I could write before going to the gym. Both were essential. You can only do that for so long though, getting up at 4 a.m. and working on poems, then working out in a gym and then going to work. It gets hard. What lost out? The poems. I wrote less and worked out more. I was struggling. Unhappy. Sweating that out in a gym helped me a lot more than writing ever did. Writing is inward. Sweating is outward.

But if you’re a writer, writing is always going to get you. I’m thinking of what the great American poet James Wright said to his son, Franz Wright, after reading some of Franz’ early poems: “I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.” Eventually, the workouts worked their way into writing. My fourth book, Hard Ass, is about all that. The struggle. The workouts. The stupid relationship things that I allowed myself to get involved in. It all ends up in the writing. I appear to be unable to compartmentalize. Perhaps that is why I have never had a writing day.

My last book, Metanoia, was written while I worked in the Hansard office at the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly. I kept T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets open on a tab on my computer. Throughout the day, I read Eliot when I could and wrote a line or two that I emailed to myself at the end of the day. I wasn’t slacking off. I was very productive on that job. Maybe the writing helped.

While I have never had a writing day as such, I know what I need in order to write: silence and solitude. Why are both so difficult to find? I am writing this in a downtown condo in Edmonton, where I live now. The condo is pretty quiet. It’s a good building, but the traffic noise from outside is unreal. It distracts and annoys me and I have written very little here because of it. I am unable to detach myself from the outside world. Again, unable to compartmentalize. Fortunately, I have found a little house in a quiet neighbourhood, close to downtown. I’m moving next month. I hope to finish my current manuscript, “Villa Negativa,” there.

The other requirement is solitude. I am alone and will remain alone. This is the only way it works. My last relationship was with a man who simply could not let me be. When I said, “I need some alone time with my notebook,” he said, “okay, I’ll just sit here on the end of the bed.” No. Just no. My marriage lasted for as long as it did because I was married to a man who knew how to leave someone alone. But that’s all in the past. I only look forward now. To silence, to solitude, to more writing.

Sharon McCartney is the author of Metanoia (2016, Biblioasis), Hard Ass (2013, Palimpsest), For and Against (2010, Goose Lane Editions), The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2007, Nightwood Editions), Karenin Sings the Blues (2003, Goose Lane Editions) and Under the Abdominal Wall (1999, Anvil Press). Her poems have been included in the 2012 and 2013 editions of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop and an LL.B. from the University of Victoria. In 2008, she received the Acorn/Plantos People's Prize for poetry.