Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Nora Pace : My Writing Day

My writing day starts with a walk.

Down the wooden steps from my front door, up the sidewalk for several blocks, taking the shady side of the street because these days in my city are hot and sticky. 

I walk fast, with my notebook and pen clutched in my hand or with a whole bag ready: book, water bottle, chapstick, notebook, phone to distract me or disrupt me, and of course my sunglasses.

Up enough blocks that my pace is starting to slow, and there it is: Blackstone Boulevard Park, a 3.29 mile long skinny oasis of grass and trees that stretches across the East Side of Providence. Most people come here to run, jostling sweaty and determined down the paved path in the middle of the park, sometimes with an eager, leashed dog galloping alongside. Middle-aged women come with a friend to speed walk, hoodies tied around their waists if it is evening, shorts and sneakers if it is day. I come here to write.

A bench in a park is a favorite place of mine for writing, along with coffee shops and libraries and taquerias with cerveza a-plenty. I have a desk at home, but it’s often contaminated with schoolwork, letters to write, bills to pay, things I ought to attend to. If I do stay home, I go out on the balcony and put my feet up on the railing and watch the squirrels on their weirdly thrilling daredevil missions across the wires. Wherever I am, I spend a good deal of my writing time watching instead of writing. This probably concerns the people with whom I am sharing these coffee shops, because I will often stare into space for quite a while before a thought comes to me and I am ready to move the pen again. I have been told that I also mouth words while doing this, and though I am pretty sure this only happens while revising poems, I’m sure some unsuspecting bro has looked up from his latte to think I am hexing him under my breath.

I know it is the practice of many writers to seek seclusion; to sit at the desk and look at the wall until they can get the writing done. Perhaps I’m fortunate in that writing is not my “job” (at least not right now), and therefore I am free of deadlines and have no existential acupuncture needles to paralyze me. I try to write a little every day, but other than that, I require nothing of myself except enjoyment and free-flowing creativity. I am more successful at the every day habit in some months more than others. But I’m happy to report that I’m on a 6-week streak right now, and that’s a lovely stabilizing feeling. Writing, for me, isn’t getting the job done, it’s exploring.

So it helps to be someplace worth exploring. That’s how ideas happen for poems and essays. Maybe this is too simple a formulation, and many may cry foul once informed that my novel-in-progress takes place on the prairie in the American West. No, I don’t just take things from the world and put them in my writing, but once I got accustomed to noticing things in a writerly way – that is, noticing things as isolated unready-to-hand items in their own right, not just implements to move through a normal life – I see that interesting prompts are everywhere. I am feeling generous, so I will give you two examples:

1. Today I am writing under a speaker playing cool boppy tunes in Providence Bagel. I’m sitting next to a young family with 4 kids. I look up when I hear the oldest boy say “I see the thing that we don’t have to take anymore,” to see that he is pointing at the city bus.

2. I am a very responsible driver; however, I would like to inform you that the most poetic road sign in the world is in middle Massachusetts near a little forest preserve with trails. It says:




If I don’t somehow get this into a poem this summer, you can have it.

I suppose I don’t know what my poetry would look like if it didn’t look like the world around me. Often I have to just sit and notice for a while. This results in a lot of lists in my notebook. That’s okay – they can join the random 3 am jotting of dream thoughts, which often don’t make sense in the morning (what was so poetic that I had to scrawl BRAN MUFFIN across the pad on my nightstand?). They can join the collection of wonderful lines that people say when they’re giving voice to their unformed thoughts or when they don’t know you’re listening. I keep track of things I should have said, love notes that don’t apply to anyone I’ve met yet, types of flowers, star signs and grief signs and recipes for disaster.

So for me, it’s essential to go out in the world and live. Go ahead, buy yourself a cup of coffee or better yet a brownie. Take the long walk down Blackstone Boulevard to a new bench, one whose epigraph reads “To Ron: You are my Destination.” Linger at the pub over another beer and see if anyone asks what you’re writing.

Nora Pace writes poetry, essays, and fiction. Her flash fiction and poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Barren Magazine, borrowed solace, and Riggwelter Press. She recently attended the Kettle Pond Writers’ Conference. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Carol Ciavonne : Typical writing day

Typical day:

Images of the Deities

No words can describe them.
All words can describe them.

blue fishy androgynous chronic
crystal measured sharp mechanical
shiny hanging epigrammatic

That’s how the ocean looks on a typical day. There is no typical day.

To describe them is to wrap them in brocade or silk. To make the message pretty.
Should the message be pretty? That depends on the message. What is the message from a pretty deity?
Forget your troubles, come on be happy. Come on and chase all your blues away.
Deities need to be comforted, to be reassured and resurrected. Wrapped in cloth and ashes.
Who is the deity who will say, “All things end.”
That’s not our belief; I’m just asking the question. Believe me.
Believe me, deities.

Coffee. Twitter politics. Rage. Retweet. Twitter poetry. Like. Retweet.

Smoking again.

Call doctor for swollen knee which could be more serious since an illness a few years ago.
Doctor out of office. Tell story 3 times to corporate medical bureaucracy. Must go to other doctor. Decide to wait.

Seamus comes a day early to replace rain gutters.

Go to pick up grandson to take to Nature Camp. Discover, while picking him up that carseat is back at home. Return home, put in carseat. Go to Nature Camp.

Decide I need coffee again, and a sweet orejita from Mexican bakery. Success.

Home to sit outside in garden and revise a 2 year old project, which poet friend has read and given me new outlook on. I think it’s done. It’s a weird one, called Images of the Deities, in a voice that is not really mine, and has been rejected several times. It started out as 16 pages of very old onionskin typing paper, on which I typed every day for 16 days, and eventually made a book object out of. The poem above is the last one in the suite. I have written so little over the past 3 years, and blame Trump and Mitch McConnell. Truly, a low level depression, but I can’t stop myself from knowing.  I have a new project I am sometimes working on, which is a kind of annotation of a book with text and images by a book artist from Germany, Jule Claudia Mann, whose work I collect. Not sure if the annotation will be a complement or or a detriment. There are works like that; too beautiful to be improved on.

I try to always have a project if I go on vacation, something that must be completed during the time period of the vacation. It can be illustrated, or it can be text written in a particular notebook, a very old used Japanese study guide for example. Or a really beautiful handmade journal by a friend that I would never use without setting myself a project. I also always keep a small notebook to write down things I see or hear and a larger journal for quotes and thoughts.  That’s usually where the first drafts of poems and essays reside.

Later I will go in and sit at the dining room table with my computer to work on a small essay on a poem by Anselm Hollo. When I can’t write poetry, I write reviews or essays. But I am always longing to write poetry.

Carol Ciavonne’s poems have appeared in Concis, Denver Quarterly, Boston Review, Colorado Review, New American Writing, among other journals. Essays and reviews can be found in Colorado Review, Rain Taxi, Entropy and Pleiades. She is the author of Birdhouse Dialogues (LaFi 2013) (with artist Susana Amundaraín) and a collection, Azimuth (Jaded Ibis Press 2014). Ciavonne is an associate editor of Posit, an online journal of poetry, prose and art.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Esteban Rodríguez: My Writing Day

On the occasions I’m asked to characterized my poetry, I give two descriptions: narrative poems that reflect heavily on my childhood in the Rio Grande Valley, and poems that have a more surreal quality to them, apt to incorporate odd and impossible images, as well as language that draws inspiration from myths and folklore. Like a sports season, I alternate writing between both styles, spending about seven to eight months on each. Regardless of what mode I find myself in, my routine stays relatively consistent, at least within the overall sense that I write and revise every day. Weekdays yield between 15-30 minutes of writing/revising, never, however, in one sitting. I’m a high school English teacher, so some days can be a bit more hectic than others, but what follows is a generalized outline, one I try to adhere to faithfully.

4:20 a.m. My alarm goes off and after the five to ten-minute struggle of regretting my decision to stay up late the night before, I get ready and head down to my apartment’s gym. In the elevator ride down (which last no more than 20 seconds), I reread whatever poem I’m working on (I write nearly all of my poems on my phone’s Notes app). I might add or delete a word here or there, and if inspiration hits, I might write a line, try to push the poem forward.

7:40 a.m. At work, I sit at my desk and, if I’ve already finished making the copies for the day’s lessons or tweaking the PowerPoint for the lecture and assignments I have planned, I look at the poem again, adding, subtracting, questioning where I’ve placed my commas (or semicolons if I’m feeling syntactically bold). My students begin to stagger in at 7:45 a.m., so five minutes is not enough time to make significant progress on a poem, but I do find that under the pressure of a deadline (in this case my students arriving), I create lines that I’m satisfied with long after.

1:20 p.m. My lunch break is only 30 minutes, and when I’m not watching mindless videos on YouTube to decompress from work, I’m most likely reading. Reading for me is writing because it allows me to see different styles, techniques, and perspectives, all of which I can add to my own. If I can spare a minute or two, I will go back to my poem and write.

6:45 p.m. After cooking dinner, I sit in the living room and read. My wife usually watches British crime dramas, and I occasionally tune in as well (there are some shows that I do love and watch). I will pick up my phone every now and then and write. Over the years, I’ve found that I don’t have to rush a poem, and nights such as these, I get what I can done. My goal, however, is always to write one poem per week, so there are occasions when I later come back to a poem and revise an ending that wasn’t satisfactory.

9:30 p.m. Before my wife and I go to sleep, I will look over what I wrote one last time and try to come up with a few lines. Again, there is no need to rush, so more often than not, I will abruptly stop what I’m writing and go back to reading, knowing that when I wake up tomorrow, the poem will be waiting for me.

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press 2019), (Dis)placement (Skull + Wind Press 2020), and the micro-chapbook Soledad (2019). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor at the EcoTheo Review and is a regular reviews contributor at PANK and Heavy Feather Review. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Paul Laughlin : My Writing Life

I am a foot soldier in Ireland’s standing army of poets.  Like most of my comrades in arms I hold down a full time job and have never had the luxury of a writing day as such.  I don’t even have a dedicated work space since I don’t write at the same time or in the same place on specific days.  Writing has always been something that has had to fit around all the other tasks I have to accomplish in the course of a day.
I write at my kitchen table, sometimes at my desk in work and since the advent of smart devices basically anywhere I happen to be when I need to get something down while it’s fresh in my mind.  

I do however have a writing process which has evolved over a long period of time.  This is, on the face of it unstructured, relying on things scribbled in notebooks, on scraps of paper, sometimes literally on the backs of envelopes supplemented by newspaper cuttings that interest me or have triggered an idea for a poem.  Books, papers, literary journals and magazines continue to pile up all over the house but, of course, more often than not I can’t find that specific item I saved when I actually need it.

My writing process has always included a sense of what is happening in the world today.  I read somewhere that the first task of the poet is to think.  A prerequisite for that is clearly a passion for ideas and a refusal to accept there should be borders between poetry, history, politics, philosophy or economics.  This approach resonates strongly with me since in my view writing is an act of public engagement.

The late Adrian Mitchell said that, “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”  Poetry is far too often dismissed as obscure texts for a specialist audience that is accessible only to those with access to the code that unlocks it. Poetry can, and should, however engage with the key issues of our time, ask difficult questions, and challenge the reader to think about what is happening in the world.

The poet William Carlos Williams held that poetry was, ‘equipment for living, a necessary guide amid the bewilderments of life.’   It must, like all art, communicate with real life.  There is no good reason why poetry shouldn’t be an urgent, provocative response to issues such as austerity, war, racism, the climate emergency and the refugee crisis.  Precise poetry of this type can embody a crystallised truth and act as a catalyst into the process of political change.

There is obviously a strong political element in my own work.  There is, of course, a conception that this must preclude any aesthetic value which is in itself a way of prescribing what a poet can write about.  A poem should be judged solely on whether it has integrity and works as a poem.  Surely one of the functions of all art is to question the dominant narrative at a given point and give voice to the marginalised and the dispossessed. 

In any society in conflict politics is part of everything to the extent that language itself is a political issue. So any attempt to constrain the dialogue between writer and reader is political.

An idea for a poem can be triggered by a phrase, a thought or a response to something I’ve seen or read.  It can then take a very long time to get from inception to completion and go through many drafts in the process.  I will often spend weeks, or months drafting and revising only to scrap everything except perhaps one or two lines that might be of use elsewhere. 

Resolving the problem of expressing a complex thought in a way that resonates with the reader is part of both the exasperation and satisfaction of creating a poem. I find it quite easy to hold the poems I am working on in my head and revisit them whenever I have bit of free time. It’s often the case that the work gets done in those supposedly idle moments or during a long walk.  I finished the poem Backstop Blues while walking in the Donegal hills after several months of turning it over in my head and redrafting on paper. In the past the absence of a notebook would have been an issue but with a smart phone I was able to email the revisions to myself immediately.

Reading widely is central to the writing process and I usually have a combination of fiction, poetry and essays on the go.  I’m currently reading Pat Barker’s remarkable retelling of The Iliad, The Silence of the Girls, which puts Briseis at the centre of the epic. Barker’s WW1 Regeneration trilogy broke down the accepted narrative of that war to put the voiceless and marginalised to the fore and in her new novel she again strips away the glory and glamour to reveal the true cost of war borne by women and children to the extent that I suspect we will not read The Iliad in the same way again

I’m also reading Sinéad Morrissey’s collection On Balance which is every bit as inventive and original as her earlier collection Parrallax. Morrissey makes poetry from an eclectic range of subjects including politics and I return again and again to her poems which are perfectly constructed.

I’ve just finished Ahmet Altan’s collection of prison essays, I will never see the world again. Imprisoned in Erdogan’s Turkey on the ludicrous charge of sending subliminal messages in support of a coup Altan never loses his sense of humour, his humanity or his belief in the transformative power of literature. Anyone who cares about writing and freedom of expression should read these essays.

As for my current work, Political Poem #2 will appear in the anthology, ‘The Darg’ which will be launched as part of the Edinburgh book festival in August. New poems have recently appeared in the Glasgow Review of Books and The Poets’ Republic 7. I’m currently making the final revisions to six new poems that I will read as part of The Poets’ Republic Irish tour which will be in Derry in October.

Beyond that I will be retiring from my day job in September.  While I could then set up a formal work space and establish a new routine I suspect I’ll keep doing what I have always done since it has served me well down the years.

Derry, Ireland.
July 2019

Paul Laughlin lives in Derry, Ireland.  He has written short fiction, pieces for radio and magazine articles.  He has published three collections of poetry, most recently Conflict Studies, New and Selected Poems (Lapwing Press).  He co-edited A Fistful of Pens, an anthology of poetry and short fiction and was contributing editor of Meeting the Challenge, a trade union publication dealing with economic issues. His poems have appeared in a number of anthologies including Field Day Review 9, Prairie Schooner’s Ireland Issue, Aimsir óg 2000 and The Harrowing of the Heart.  New work recently appeared in the Poets’ Republic 7 and the Glasgow Review of Books.