Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Rupert Loydell : my (small press) writing day

Officially it's my summer holiday, but the alarm still goes off at 6.30am so we can get our youngest child to school in time. After she gets out of the door I usually grab my poetry file and edit the work in progress in my study. Recently, and unusually, it's been incredibly hot in Cornwall, so I've been taking cups of tea out and sitting at the outside table to work before the sun gets too high or too hot. And doing something similar, but with a glass of beer or wine, after dinner in the evening. I follow the same kind of timetable when I'm back lecturing at university, although I can sometimes grab time to write or edit between classes, and i make use of the poetry and art libraries too, as stimulus and background reading.

I'm a fidget kind of self-editor.  Most of my writing gets knocked into shape pretty quickly, even if that involves a drastic rewrite or cut-up (I have a downloaded cut-up machine on my laptop); it's the odd full stop (period) , comma or semi-colon that I change, or deleting or replacing repeat words. I read out loud a lot and listen to the work. Most of my work is pretty regularly shaped, a lot of it is processual - syllabics, chance procedures, or simply in a series devised by me. I also do a lot of collaborative writing, so some days emails are pinging to and fro.

I've learnt, after 40 years to let ideas and themes ferment in my brain a while, but also to jot down writing as often as possible, even if it's just a single odd phrase. Then I can riff around what's starting to brew, or abandon the bits of paper for months on end if they don't suit. I often use song titles or phrases from books I'm reading to generate texts to work on: it's much easier to change a poem than face a white page.

Every so often, when finished work has been filed (hard copy, computer copy + back up hard disc, plus another hard copy if I think I might perform the work at a poetry reading) I have a flurry of submitting to magazines, and every so often I start to think about books and chapbooks, what might sit next to what,  what the subject of a book might be. Recently, I've been writing prose poems and Broken Sleep Books will be publishing a selection soon. I've just submitted a new manuscript to Shearsman, who have published many of my books, and an artist friend is doing a series of lino prints of cathedrals to go alongside a series of poems I have written. I've just started working with another poet, Maria Stadnicka, on the subject of death, grief and mourning, for a research project.

Somewhere in there I fit in editing Stride magazine, which I started in 1982 and is now a blog, though I have recently discovered how to schedule uploads, which makes life easier. But I have to accept or reject submissions and commission book reviews somewhere in the day; and I also write reviews and articles for academic journals and International Times, which publishes weekly (I'm a contributing editor). Many of my academic pieces have also been collaborative and processual: finding people to write with and appropriate ways to do so, makes it all the more fun. It's been particularly useful when writing about Twin Peaks: The Return and the music and apps of Brian Eno.

Rupert Loydell is Senior Lecturer in the School of Writing and Journalism at FalmouthUniversity, a writer, editor and abstract artist. He has many books of poetry in print, including Dear Mary (Shearsman, 2017) and The Return of the Man Who Has Everything (Shearsman 2015); has edited anthologies such asYesterday’s Music Today (co-edited with Mike Ferguson, Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2014), Smartarse (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2011) , From Hepworth’s Garden Out (Shearsman, 2010) and Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: manifestos and unmanifestos (Salt, 2010). He has contributed creative and academic writing to Punk & Post-Punk (which he is on the editorial board of), Journal of Writing and Creative Practice, Musicology Research, New Writing, Axon, Text, English, Revenant and Journal of Visual Art Practice, and co-authored a chapter in Brian Eno. Oblique Music (Bloomsbury, 2017) and in a forthcoming book on Twin Peaks: The Return.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Janet Barkhouse : My Writing Day

04:20. Awake. Nooooo. Try the word game. “Cat”—no repeated letters, and short because I’m going to go right back to sleep, right? “C”--catalogue, create, Cordelia, contact, cant, can’t, carcass….

06:10. Paris pokes me in the back. Not the Trojan prince, our dog. One of our dogs. Up I get, groggy but game. Paris and Salsa, her sister, come downstairs with me. Staying behind are Max, very old crippled beagle; Gallant, Paris’s brain-damaged son; and Greg, lovely human partner. I turn on the coffee I readied last night, open the door to the screened porch that leads into the dogs’ fenced-in yard.

When I return to the kitchen, Gallant has come downstairs. I let him in—there’s a gate across the door to the kitchen that acts as an air-lock so Gallant, who is almost blind, doesn’t get out should we slip up and leave the back door open. He’s fast—Greg calls him Flash. We didn’t mean to have four dogs. A friend breeds Entlebuchers; she brought two bitches over from Slovakia and we fostered them, partly to help her out, partly because Max was lonely after our dear old Risa died. She, the breeder, was taking Gallant, one of Paris’s first litter, to his new home in the States when he ate something off. The veterinary hospital she took him to gave him an antibiotic a puppy should never have had; 24 hours later he was permanently brain-damaged. He ended up here. Max hates him—but he sure isn’t lonely.  

06:15. I’m out to feed the hens, as well as Poose-poose and Ginger. Poose-poose and Ginger are feral cats who arrived in our yard in February, and had a litter of six kittens in May. We managed to socialize the kittens so that the wonderful local all-volunteer shelter (SHAID—Shelter for Helpless Animals In Distress) could take them in and find them homes. Poose-poose has been spayed; now we’re trying to convince Ginger he’d like to be neutered. He’s not keen. So far we’ve trapped two raccoons. There’s a visiting bear, too. We’ve put the compost bin in Greg’s shop.

It’s a stellar day à la Nova Scotia—warm but not hot, sunny, with a light breeze. Everything smells Eden sweet. We need rain, but we’re not desperate yet, and it’s so heavenly, who cares?

06:30. Breakfast time for me—two slices of bacon and mushrooms and an egg. I’m trying to lose weight by eating fat. I know, but it’s supposed to work. First cup of coffee, with 18% cream. While I eat, I do some on-line banking and think about all the things I have to do. I’m going to read with Frances Boyle in Fredericton at the Odd Sundays series in October, and she’ll come back to NS with me and do some readings here. So I need to contact libraries and book stores and the Writers’ Fed. (Frances has a delightful new novella, Tower, published by Fish Gotta Swim Editions, and I will have a book of poems, Salt Fires, published by Pottersfield Press.) I also have to work on a prose aubade I promised E. Alex Pierce I’d attempt for a collection she’s editing for Boularderie Island Press.  It opens with, “She’s lying awake in the charcoal dawn, before shadows begin. Nothing much to cast a shadow, anyway. Mattress on the floor, chair piled with books and yesterday’s clothes. Now today’s clothes.”  I’ve just been asked to write “something about age” for Understorey, And I’m keeping track of my day for fun and for Rob.

06:45. I hang out laundry and put another load in the washer. In between pinning clothes to the line, I throw “the dish” for the dogs. Well, for Paris and Salsa. Gallant runs around madly (“Flash”, remember), and Max stays on the other side of the airlock gate in the kitchen door, hoping for his breakfast. We have to feed him separately because he hates Gallant so much, and when food’s at stake, he’s merciless. “The dish” is a cheap steel bowl that flies through the air like a Frisbee. Paris invented the dish game. She doesn’t really need me to throw it, but she likes me to. She is perfectly happy to toss it in the air herself, and/or scoot it between her legs like a pro quarterback. While she does that, Salsa runs in circles around her, with a rock in her mouth. Don’t ask—I have no idea.

07:30.  The dogs get their breakfast, and Greg gets up. Jacob, a hard working young man, has arrived to cut up the ten cord of hardwood that will feed our outdoor furnace this coming winter. Strange to think of winter on this stellar summer day. We’re investigating getting a new furnace/heat pump, because the neighbour who brings our firewood is 84, and starting to think about retiring. Easy to see why I want to write “something about age”.

08:30. I’ve been writing this steadily for an hour. I’m at the kitchen table, which is horribly untidy. I’ll take a photo, and share it, to my shame, because I promised myself I would do and be exactly as I do and am. Otherwise, what’s the point? You could make up your own story. I wish I were tidier, but not enough to make it come true. I’m at the kitchen table for two reasons. One is the dogs. My “den” (AKA “the hell hole”) is upstairs, and Greg wouldn’t be able to sleep if we were all up there, as I would have to be clumping up and down stairs to let the dogs out and in, which also means I wouldn’t get much writing done. And, two—well, it’s “the hell hole”. My desk is even worse than the kitchen table. Both do get tidied, but not often enough. Greg is tidier than I am. Right now he’s tidying the kitchen.

09:45. Still working on the aubade, but just now made an appointment with our doctor for prescription renewals, thanks to a reminder on my cell, then went out to get the eggs (only eight hens this year), hang up a load of laundry, throw the dish again. Answering emails, arranging for visits with cousins who are “home” briefly from far away. Watching CNN to hear about the Trump-Putin meeting.

11:00. Just sent an email to The Box of Delights Bookstore in Wolfville, to ask if a reading for Frances and me on October 27 might be possible. Now Greg and I have to go to the bank in Bridgewater, a half hour away, to get money for the young man cutting up the firewood, and do errands. Back about 14:00. That’ll be pretty close to the end of my writing day, except for more emails and phone calls to ask for reading times, and finishing this. If I have a deadline, I work all day until I can’t think any more. If I don’t, I fit it in around dogs and hens and feral cats and food, exactly like today. And I’m done! 15:52. Cheers!

Janet Barkhouse’s poems have been published across Canada in such journals as CV2, TNQ, Riddle Fence, and the Literary Review of Canada. Her debut collection of poems, Salt Fires, will be published by Pottersfield Press in the fall of 2018.  It follows on two chapbooks, Silence; and Sable Island Fieldnotes, with photographs by Zoe Lucas; a docupoem short screened at Lunenburg Doc Fest 2017; and three children’s books. In 2013-14 she was Artist in Residence with her daughter, singer-songwriter Alex Hickey, at Dalhousie’s Medical School, through their Humanities-HEALS program.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Lauren Brazeal : Block Schedule

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing. 
                                                                    ― Annie DillardThe Writing Life

My alarm wakes me at 5:30am on a typical morning. I quickly dress, feed myself and my young son, get us packed for school, and am out the door by 6:00. By 6:30, I pull into the black sea of an empty parking lot—save the car of my campus’ lead custodian, Mr. Ipina, who lets me into the dark, cavernous early college where I teach. I make my way to my second-floor classroom alone, to write in silence for the few precious hours I have in a 24-hour cycle that can be only mine; where my thoughts are only my own and my mind is free of the clutter and chaos of other humans’ needs.

I open my laptop and begin filling blank space with black text. Often, this preliminary work is stream-of-consciousness: I let my fingers move and give little thought as to their final product. After all, no one is observing or reading my mistakes. I’m free to fail in the safety of my own isolation. I watch the sun rise over Dallas’ glistening financial district from my school’s hilltop perch in its largely poor, immigrant neighborhood of Oak Cliff. As natural light spills across my desk, the sounds of teenagers arriving to the complex grow louder and more numerous.

At 8:30, the opening bell rings to indicate the doors unlocking and breakfast being served. The smell of microwaved ham and eggs fills the air. The entrance’s metal detector announces itself with jarring, unpredictable honks. My students know I’m usually in my classroom, and, if the door’s open, they are welcome to join me and eat as long as they’re quiet—they understand my need for concentration. In these final minutes, I become almost frantic: banging out idea after idea in bulleted form. Any and all words are jotted down to be revisited later. The first period bell rings at 9:05 and I rise from my desk as students file in and sit down. I leave my laptop open, however, to whatever poem or story is being hammered out.

Part of being a good teacher is learning to maximize efficiency: to milk every possible benefit from what little instructional time I have with my students between wave after inundating wave of standardized tests, mandated suicide prevention assemblies, lock-down drills to prepare for a shooter in the halls. I’ve taken my ability to multitask and economize and applied it to writing: I exist in two worlds, the planet of my lectures and emails and papers to grade; and the sphere humming beneath this, where I untangle ideas and sentences in my head, frequently returning to my desk between breaks in the lesson to replace a less desirable word with a more apt synonym, to exchange a comma for a semicolon, to forge a new line break or unfurl a new stanza. I count meter by counting steps as I circulate the classroom—incidentally, when I was working on a series of sonnets last year, I found myself frequently lecturing in iambic pentameter.

My intent each morning is to write until my last waking breath, but as the day drags on and distractions accumulate, visits to edit become less frequent and new ideas grow more sporadic. By the final bell at 4:16, after having read the work of or engaged in conversations with nearly all of my 125 students, my brain is largely useless. I resolve to write more at home, but upon collecting my son from daycare, wading through traffic, fighting for parking in my crowded apartment complex, and the standard cooking / eating / cleaning / storytime / bathtime / teethbrushing / hairbrushing / bedtime song, I’m too exhausted to open my computer again.

On an average writing day I’m dreaming by 10:00pm, ready to do it again the following morning in the amniotic loneliness of my pre-dawn classroom, while the majority of Dallas sleeps.

When I was in my early 20’s and still nursing fantasies about what a writing life would be like, I imagined largely empty calendars: whole swaths of days free of anything but the imperative to put pen to paper. I assumed my craft would be allowed to develop of its own accord. After all, isn’t that what passions need to thrive: room, time, and lack of pressure? I couldn’t imagine having to wedge my creative endeavors in the minutes between bells, during planning periods, on breaks from power point presentations. As an adult with adult obligations, my writing has never been free to grow at its convenience. Like most authors, I must beg, borrow, and steal every second devoted to this pursuit that keeps me sane and makes my life worth living. But I’ve come to believe that the bright flames of passion require friction to stay ignited. My best work has been produced slowly and stoppingly in the furnace of a ticking clock and piling obligations, in those hard-won and therefore precious increments of time that make my hours, days, and life.

Lauren Brazeal teaches in Dallas and is the author of two chapbooks, Zoo for Well-Groomed Eaters (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), and exuviae (Horse Less Press, 2016). Her first full-length collection, Gutter, is releasing in August of 2018 from Yes Yes Books. In her past, Brazeal has been a homeless gutter-punk, a resident of Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, a maid, a surfer chick, and a custom aquarium designer. A graduate of Bennington’s MFA program in writing and literature, her work has appeared in journals such as DIAGRAMSmartish PaceBarrelhouseForkliftOhio, and Verse Daily.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Vineetha Mokkil : Writing Day

I write every day, but I don’t have a typical writing day. My motto: snatch every scrap of time from the tight-fisted weekday to write. An hour in the morning. A couple of hours at night. I prefer nights. Morning is a brash time of day. So many demands to meet: chores at home, deadlines looming on the day-job front, which involves editing non-fiction.

Nights are mercifully quiet. The roar of traffic is muted, the manic city simmers down, as do my noisy neighbours. The sliver of sky I get to see from my second floor apartment is lit with stars. The moon hovers outside my window, sometimes a thin slice, sometimes rounded and full. At night, inner calm is an attainable goal. As is clarity of thought. Words come to me faster, easier, then. Thoughts flow seamlessly.

Weekends are when I get uninterrupted chunks of time to write. I make the best of it. Right now, I’m finishing work on a collection of short stories, and Saturdays and Sundays over the past few months have been all about the stories. My weekends have been consumed by writing and revision (a spectacularly niggly, but necessary task). Breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks, and a short walk in the evening – the rest of the day, I spend at my desk, getting the stories into shape.

I can’t lay claim to a typical writing day, but there are some constants, a few daily ground rules that apply, no matter what chaos the rest of the day brings.  

Write 500 words a day. This is the hoop I shoot for. The holy grail. The word count is not a fire-breathing dragon. Not a sword I’ve hung over my own head, prompted by some strange masochistic impulse. It just helps to have something concrete to aim for when I sit down at my desk. For the runner on the track, there’s the finishing line. For my writing day to gather steam, there’s the daily word count.

Read something written by another person – big press or small press author, member of the canon or criminally overlooked writer, literary icon or debutant. This helps me to keep my writing muscles flexed. When I read a good novel or short story, my awareness of the possibilities of the forms expands. Reading a tightly coiled piece of flash fiction leaves me amazed. Reading a poem sets me free for a few glorious minutes – from the constraints of prose, the straightjacket of sentences, the preoccupation with plot. I learn by osmosis from the writers whose work I read. It’s a debt I can never repay.

Slow down, zoom in, observe. Confession: I’m a news junkie. Much as I would like to tune out the happenings in our increasingly insane world, I do end up spending a lot of time, especially online, chasing after the news. Political intrigue, the alarming rise of bloviating dictators, an escalating environmental crisis – all of it is rich material for fiction. Many news items spark story ideas. Reality is an excellent plank to jump off from and dive headlong into fiction. That being said, as a fiction writer, it’s my job to pay attention to the nuances, the human facts, the emotional terrain of individual lives the news avoids. I remind myself, constantly, to pay attention to people’s stories, their struggles, their quirks, their discontents and dreams. I always carry a notebook with me. Jot down snippets of conversations, interesting details or chance remarks, which I know will find a place in a story some time.

Coffee. Not a ground rule, but a necessity. Without coffee my writing would grind to a halt, wither away, die a sad death. I’m told there are writers, in this world, who get work done in without drinking a single cup of coffee in a day. I’m also told there are people who’ve spotted UFOs hovering overhead. I find both equally hard to believe.


Vineetha Mokkil is the author of the short story collection, A Happy Place and other stories (HarperCollins, 2014). Her fiction has appeared or is slated to appear in the Santa Fe Writers’ Project Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Asian Cha, The Missing Slate, The Bombay Review, and The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 (Kitaab, Singapore). She was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, June 2018.)