Thursday, January 31, 2019

Caroline Shea : My Writing Day

My writing day and to be honest, my daily life in general, has yet to settle into a definite routine. For most of my life, my schedule has been determined by the academic calendar, my time helpfully parceled out by classes. In a way, being a student means writing is built into your day out of necessity, but it’s not always the writing you feel compelled by or passionate about. Since graduating from the University of Vermont this past spring, I’ve moved Connecticut where I’ve been working remotely as a Poetry Editor for Green Writers Press, a small, women-run press with a focus on publishing sustainably. Having the freedom to set my own schedule is both exciting and daunting. Like anything, I think it’s something you have to practice at and I’m still learning to manage my time accordingly. However, I feel incredibly lucky to be working for a press committed to uplifting a diverse array of voices and to share the (virtual) company of so many talented editors and authors. I’ve heard writers say their editorial or freelance duties become a drain on the energy they have to dedicate to their own writing. While I can see how this dynamic can arise, especially in a world that encourages us to sacrifice our own passions for the sake of some unachievable standard of productivity, so far I’ve found my roles as a writer and an editor complement and supplement each other.
          Most days, after I’ve pep-talked and berated myself into believing I’m a morning person, I make myself tea and sit down to write up a to-do list. I’ve always liked making lists, even as a kid, and the act of committing my goals to paper makes them feel more tangible to me. I’ll write down both tasks I need to accomplish for my current projects at Green Writers Press: copyedits, manuscript evaluations, meetings with authors, and personal goals I want to work on, like submitting writing for publication opportunities and working on my applications for MFA programs. I also like to set aside some time each day to either work on new writing or revise existing work. While much of this time this past fall has been taken up by the grad school application process, I’ve also been working on a manuscript about girlhood, the body, and place. I sent out an earlier version to a few presses, but was inspired to heavily revise after attending the Kenyon Review Writers workshop this summer. Being able to have those intensive, critical discussions of craft that I took for granted while in school helped me return to my work with fresh eyes. Typically, I will work on editing projects in the morning and read and work on my own writing after lunch. This depends on the day, my mood, what phone meetings I have scheduled, what deadlines are coming up, and whether I remember to have lunch, so I’m using the word “typically” very loosely.
          I don’t have a set place where I write, but I finally have room in my new apartment to create a little reading and writing nook, which I’ve always wanted to do. I have a corner of the bedroom picked out and finally ordered a chair the other day. The chair looks like sitting in it will feel like drinking scotch while writing a very important letter at a typewriter. I don’t even like scotch, but I plan to live in that chair unless my cat beats me to it first. I’m still searching for a bookshelf, but my need for shelf space is becoming increasingly more desperate. For now, if I’m working at home, I usually work sitting at the kitchen counter or on the couch with the cat. When I get too stir crazy to sit at home or the cat decides to be an overly helpful co-editor, I go work in a Pain Quotidien that’s about twenty steps from my front door. They have good iced tea and heating that unlike the heating in my apartment, actually works, so I’ve become a regular. I also like to work in a little coffee shop in downtown Stamford called Lorca. I don’t know if the poet serves as a namesake, but I like to think so. Lorca only has a few small single-person booths and tables, so I always feel lucky if I manage to nab a seat. The far wall is brick, painted with a white background and a mural of yellow, black, and blue star-like bursts. The shop specializes in coffee and churros, both of which are excellent, although they have plenty of other offerings, too. I love the warm, cozy environment and the silent solidarity that develops among all the patrons doing work.
          While I’ve enjoyed developing a routine this year and relearning the pleasures and struggles of writing solely because I desire to, I know that the free time I have to devote to my writing currently is a privilege, most likely a temporary one. I don’t know what my writing day this time next year will look like. Whether I’ll have been accepted into a graduate program, whether new opportunities will have arisen, or how I’ll have grown in my role as an editor at Green Writers Press. I think at one time in my life this kind of uncertainty would have caused me an immense amount of anxiety, but I’ve found myself strangely unworried. I know that whatever the trappings of my day look like and whatever other obligations I may have, writing will always be an integral part of my daily life.

Caroline Shea is a writer and poetry editor at Green Writers Press, a small press with a focus on publishing sustainably. Her work has appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, Poached Hare, and COG Magazine, among others. She was a finalist for the 2018 Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Poetry Prize. She lives in Connecticut. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

M.W. Jaeggle, my small press writing day

To ensure I make the first metro, I am awake shortly before five am. I shower, eat, check the weather, apply layers, then brave the snow. I count the people I pass as I make my way to the station. As I’m pushing the revolving door and feel the air rush past me, I whisper the number. Today’s is four.

I note that one of the escalators leading to the platform is still under repairs. I have several minutes to wait before the metro arrives, so I sit and dig out a book from my bag. I admire as best I can the skill at which Charlotte Brontë uses a semicolon in Jane Eyre.

There is a roar, lights against the wall of the tunnel, the train appearing and coming closer, a pale light on the face of the driver, a strong rush of air, and then doors passing by me. It will be the next train car. No. That car will stop in front of me. Okay, it’ll be that one. A car stops, its doors open, and I get on.

I sit in the back, where a window sill allows me to rest my head in my hand comfortably. I continue to read, but I realize I am being unfaithful to the experience. I am reading the words, but without comprehending them. The book returns to my bag. Of the twenty or so people in the metro car, I recognize a few from their coats. The man yawning behind a gloved hand, the one who will get off at the next stop, is wearing a new toque.

My eyes blink at a rate which accords with my breathing. Slowly. I am thinking about the status of the human will when writing poetry. I am wondering if the dissolution of will is key to good writing, and whether this dissolution is itself an act of the will. I am wondering if the will is something which can be turned down, like the volume on a stereo or the heat of an element. I am thinking that if intention is the target of will, then poetry is the will unaware of its target. I am thinking it is just like sleep or faith. I remind myself that I am not religious, that I am sleepy, and that my connection is at the next stop.

I am sitting on another train, thinking through what I can remember of what A.F. Moritz said about the distinction between poetry arising from inspiration and poetry resulting from deliberate construction. He said the distinction was silly. He said this distinction was inevitable. I am trying to remember what else he had to say, but am having no luck.[i]

I am standing on my final train, thinking that inspiration is a catalogue of things we are feeling or have felt which we draw upon somehow without using intention. And I am thinking that we attribute this to an external source because it is easier than acknowledging the possibility that we don’t fully know ourselves. I remind myself that I think through things by writing poetry. But how does one write a poem about intention sans intention. I am feeling pretentious. I am wondering if there was something to that idea of sleep.

I am walking out of the metro station, back into the snow. There’s a possibility that we don’t have the call numbers for all our real and imagined experiences, but that doesn’t make them inaccessible. They’re not closed stacks. I say the words again, this time aloud for the sake of the empty street. I arrive at work before the sun shows itself. I read a few more pages of Jane Eyre, then clock in.

I am home before five pm. I put on the kettle and begin a pot of rice. I sit down where I typically write.[ii] I start the poem which began on the metro that morning. My partner arrives home, just as I am thinking the vegetables are ready. I say that I had a good day but that I am tired. But it’s okay because I’m writing a poem about it. While we are eating, she says she wants to read it. But I say no, it’s not ready. It’s undercooked, like the rice. It needs a little more time in the Metro.

M.W. Jaeggle is a poet from Vancouver, currently based in Montreal. His writing has appeared in Train, The Dalhousie Review, untethered, (parenthetical), in the anthology Refugium: Poems for the Pacific, and elsewhere. He was long listed for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize. A chapbook is forthcoming from Baseline Press. He tweets rarely @underapricity

[i] Later, I will track down where I read Moritz and find the following from a 2018 interview he gave with James Lindsay for Open Book: “You realize, as a poet, that the argument, whether there’s inspiration and intuition and a connection to and communication from “the beyond”, or whether on the other hand there’s only intentional planning and construction, is in fact silly, although the very nature of reason limited to rationality, logic, and planning automatically creates this false dilemma and can’t avoid doing so.”

[ii] An admittedly unremarkable room painted in contractor’s white and furnished with one white table, two black office chairs, and the cat’s litter box. On the wall above the desk are five greyscale images salvaged from a water-damaged art history book: Hendrick Goltzius’s Study of a Tree; a photograph of early twentieth century art dealer Ambroise Vollard at a desk surrounded by rolled canvases; a photograph of Cézanne’s studio strewn with sketches on the walls and objects on every flat surface; a painting by Maxfield Parrish of a man wearing a polka dot cape and reading on a stool; and finally, a woodcut image of a triumphant Puss in Boots by Gustave Doré.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Elizabeth Onusko : Writing Day

It feels futile to describe a typical writing day because I’m not writing much lately, and days themselves pool together like watercolors (thank you, parenthood).

In 2018, I drafted about twenty poems, some of which showed up suddenly and demanded my attention until they were completed; others roamed around my mind for weeks or months, ambling toward closure; and others were long-distance friends who visited occasionally but eventually stopped coming over.

That said, I don’t monitor my productivity in any meaningful way, and I don’t panic when I enter a slower period. I’ve learned that fighting it prolongs it. And I’m in a slower period now. A winter.

The story of my writing life is the story of discovering and accepting my process, and that process is comprised of seasons. These seasons, however, last longer than a few months each. A recent spring went on for two and a half years. Previous winters have stretched well beyond that. This winter is maybe six months old.

After I graduated from an MFA program a dozen years ago, I taught high school English, working 70-80 hour weeks. It was physically exhausting and intellectually draining. Eventually, I transitioned to a nonprofit, but the demands of my job, along with a volunteer editorial position at a magazine, made a regular writing schedule impossible. In the midst of all this, my poems were undergoing a significant stylistic shift, and I felt (necessarily, though it certainly didn’t seem that way at the time) like I was flailing.

Several years of struggle and failure and intense self-doubt finally gave way to my first true spring as a writer (meaning post-MFA, a degree that I regard as my apprenticeship). It was… astonishing. I was a new mom and had left my job to care for my child for reasons I won’t detail here. My mind loosened, and I had no energy to devote to inhibitions and insecurities. I wrote out of total emotional and mental necessity, and doing so helped me preserve an essential part of myself while the rest of me rapidly changed. It was as if I had opened a window in my imagination and discovered I could fly out and return at will.

I wrote my first book in a few months (rather, I revised older work and wrote newer work and stitched them into a functional full-length in a few months). It won a contest later that year. An initial draft of my second manuscript was done a year or so after that (it was subsequently heavily edited and is currently looking for home, but still, the house had been built). Then another big stylistic shift began, my poems pivoting from surreal lyrics to bare, unflinching narratives. And then this slowdown commenced.

Please believe me when I tell you: I am at peace with it. It’s an important part of my writing process. It coincides with (or perhaps not?) my taking up painting, a childhood love, again. I’m untrained and have absolutely no ambitions for it, which is wildly exciting. The impulse I used to feel to write poems is instead largely directed toward canvases and paper. (Though not entirely.)

My paintings relieve the pressure on my poems, and together, they relieve the pressure on the rest of my life and keep me in dialogue with myself. When I think about how many people I know who’ve never found a creative outlet, whether it’s choreography or coaching or cooking, I appreciate anew how deeply fortunate I am, regardless of whether I write two poems or twenty poems or one hundred poems a year. What matters is that I somehow manage to write poems.

Elizabeth Onusko is the author of Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor (Red Paint Hill, 2016). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Sun, Bennington ReviewColumbia Poetry Review, The Southeast Review, Poetry Northwest, and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. She edits Foundry, and her website is

Friday, January 25, 2019

Bobbi Lurie : My Writing Day

2:40 a.m.  pain - drink water - take pain med. - sit - try to remember dream

3:37 - lay down

Can’t sleep - get up - pain - take xxxxxx - make coffee -

Go on computer - read written words from yesterday

face what u know to be true in ur bones + keep walkin'  FACE WHAT YOU KNOW TO BE TRUE AND KEEP WALKING …

I’ve been rewriting this essay daily for several days - on and off for several weeks - the longer I work on it, the shorter it gets. I’m thankful for that. The first draft was 40 pages long …

Blaise Pascal
“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
"to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace ... " Georges Perec


as Sol Dewitt said to Eva Hesse :
" ... getting people to engage with their own consciousness ... "

Everything about me is fragments - fragments written on receipts from purchases from drive-thru restaurants from taking my son for his addiction same thing in and out daily… fragments from journals, fragments from Tweets  … resisting the dark voice of self …


The above is how I began this essay weeks ago    it ended differently every day … depending on my levels of pain. There’s no way to write about my day without writing about pain. There’s also no way I can imagine going through so much pain for so long without having the companionship of my writing self, a self obsessed with meanings and words, unlike the self in me which feels the pain.

I’ve deleted most descriptions of pain. The editor within ends up half-lying about everything. Pain is impossible to explain. To write is a distraction anyway so why describe the very thing one seeks distraction from (I think this at 3:59 a.m. on a day different than the recorded day above ) - this is the day I feel I must “abandon” this work - it’s been weeks of me struggling to finish it.

Art is never finished, only abandoned. - Leonardo da Vinci

My writing self is an endless seeker of meaning and words. And it doesn’t always exist so I’m not about to take it for granted. The self in me experiencing the pain is somehow freed by the self that writes “about” it.

Lately, pain has made my writing even more fragmented than it’s been in the past. It’s acted as a definite painkiller for me. Of course writing has always been a type of painkiller for me and it serves that purpose now.

Perhaps it’s the movement of my fingers over the keys or the holding of a pen or maybe it’s the idea of watching things from a distance, a type of detachment, more powerful than meditation or anything else I know.

Fifteen years ago I was given a pretty hopeless cancer diagnosis. It’s really a miracle I’m still here and now. But three years ago a surgery left me in pain. So here I am.

I usually wake several times a night. Often there is pain. Sometimes there are words.This is how I write. Always there is reading. The reading brings the writing. I’ve never stopped writing. Not since I was five years old or however old I was when I learned to write.

I should say that as soon as I could hold a pencil or crayon, something in me came alive. I probably made drawings and paintings before I wrote. Perhaps it was the other way around. But, mostly, they were the same thing. Art saved my life.

I was (and often still am) a stutterer and, when I was growing up, I could barely speak. Drawing and writing were the only things that made me feel it was possible for me to communicate. And when I say “communicate” I don’t mean that anyone took an interest in my drawings or my writing. I mean I was communicating with myself. And the older I get the more I realize I’ve always only been communicating with my self.

I used to call my notebooks “diaries.” This past year I’ve been reading through a great number of these diaries / journals / notebooks. As a daily activity, I’ve been picking out fragments from old diaries and copying them into new notebooks. Sometimes I throw the old notebooks away. Throwing notebooks away sometimes helps me feel as if I am freeing myself of the past. But for every notebook I throw away, ten more appear. I often feel I am drowning in notebooks, in diaries, in words.

I’ve been asking myself why I write ever since rob asked me to write this piece.

I see writing as a compulsion, a need. And reading is, for me, one of the greatest pleasures in life.

There’s always a diaristic element to writing and reading, a seeking of intimacy through the words written and read.

It’s always felt like I was keeping track of life for myself to myself. And it feels like a need which rises up in the present moment over and over again. The words themselves are not as important as the action of writing itself.

I suppose what’s exciting about writing: one never knows what will happen. Even in the midst of excruciating pain, anything’s possible. It’s like living in an alternative universe. It’s a book being narrated by me to me. Or you to you. But really I don’t know what it is or what it means, this endless compulsion to write.

I remember a nurse running into the recovery room when I first woke from surgery. She was laughing hysterically, shaking one of my notebooks at me. I had hid a pen and notebook in one of the surgical socks they gave me to wear.  “I took this out of your sock!” Shouted the nurse, as if trying to make me understand what I had done. “You thought you’d write about your surgery!?! What’s that about?”

I never thought anyone would find the tiny notebook … but I did think, “Perhaps in the time between the beginning of anesthesia  … between the countdown and the surgery … what if some words come floating up … what if … “

Bobbi Lurie is the author of The Book I Never Read, Letter from the Lawn, Grief Suite, and the morphine poems. She lives in New Mexico.