Wednesday, August 7, 2019

My (small press) Writing Day: Elizabeth Robinson

Over the past 5 or so years, my life has included so much upheaval and work, work, work that I’m not sure how I got writing done.  Often, I stumble on the writing later and recognize it rather than have active memories of enacting it.  I’ve taken to heart Bernadette Mayer’s comment that “writing is a necessity and, when there is time, a luxury.”

What I’ve found is that I might have a general idea of something/some things that I want to pursue and only later discover that materials (notes, ideas, books I’ve been reading, manuscripts I’m writing) have slowly accrued around it.  In the meantime, there’s been teaching and job and family.  There are always the responsibilities and gifts of community as well.  We all have to ask for blurbs and recommendation letters, and I try to be attentive to my life in community.  Lately, I haven’t had time to write a lot of reviews (only two last year), but I write a lot of rec letters and blurbs (about one a week for the latter over the last 6 weeks).  I consider this important to my life as a writer, but it can mean that I defer my own creative practice.  Maybe these kinds of tasks are a form of procrastination, actually, but they also require attention and creativity. In any case, community is important to me, and with it come these very honorable responsibilities and opportunities.

On the rare morning, afternoon, or evening that I am at least trying to set aside for writing, my own creative work, I interrupt myself a lot.  I guess my writing process is characterized by restlessness.  In the middle of a poem, the dog needs to go out for a pee.  I remember an email response that is due.  I go hunt down a book looking for some sentences that I need to read again.  For that reason, I don’t have a single site where I write.  At the moment, I am sitting on the couch; a little earlier I was on the front porch; earlier still, I was sitting at the table by the window.  It’s not uncommon for me to sit on the bed with my laptop on my lap.  (I’m not using my desk very much these days: it wobbles.) 

But the interruptions function as a way to deepen concentration.  Sitting still is not always the best way to figure things out.  When I’m writing an essay or a blurb, it is particularly helpful to go on a walk: sentences construct themselves around the gait.  Somehow poems happen in interior space—fragments constellating around kitchen counter, hallway, bookshelf.  I often find myself arranging, rearranging things when I’m making a poem.  Move the plant here.  Fold up the quilt and drape it here.  Lick my finger in order to pick up all the crumbs off the table. Mobility equates with pattern.

Over the past two years I’ve finished several projects—manuscripts that were suspended indefinitely.  I credit my husband’s curiosity and support for this.  He encourages me to actually do the writing and sometimes we give each other prompts or deadlines.  But it is also in the warmth of his attentiveness that my work finds place and flourishes.  In that way, writing is very often less about where than about whom.  Writing is a necessity and is community and is intimacy and, when there is time, a luxury.

Elizabeth Robinson is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Rumor (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press) and Blue Heron (Mountain West Series). Her book On Ghosts (Solid Objects) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and she has been a winner of the Fence Modern Poets Prize for Apprehend and the National Poetry Series for Pure Descent. With Jennifer Phelps, Robinson co-edited the critical anthology Quo Anima: innovation and spirituality in contemporary women's poetry (University of Akron Press). Ahsahta Press will publish a new book, Vulnerability Index, later this year.

1 comment:

  1. As a grateful recipient of one of Elizabeth's thoughtful poetic blurbs I find that her revealing confession relieved some of the guilt I feel at my own strenuous procrastination (I find cooking and eating a generous meal to be a very effective form of the discipline = followed by a nap, of course.) Judging from Elizabeth's prolific output and general good works, it seems to be working for her. So I hope she keeps it!