Thursday, October 31, 2019

Alicia Wright : my (small press) writing day

By the time I have set myself to begin writing, I am hours or days into the process of receding from the order of the physical world. I am forgetting my body and the trails of thought that net it together so that I might focus, or do the work of condensation, for the poem. I don’t have a schedule for writing, or periods of time made regular in my life habits. I have intention, spun from an idea or sense of window into language, and I must wait until my feeling catches up, matches it, so that the two might begin a conversation or fusion from that point of critical context, contact. It is a kind of internalization, but one already derived from interiority. So: no typical writing day for me, but there is yet a process requiring a number of calibrations, and patience. I’ll become aware of the next day I have a day of no, or very few, outside obligations. I might begin winnowing obligations away, get extra groceries, coffee, wine, take my dog on longer walks. I will spend time before sleep, and sometimes in deep sleep, working the feeling, finding the point of convergence, testing out words to suit. Nonverbally. I wait for night, or if not night, then earliest morning. And then I enter a kind of space of meditative agitation. The poem might have been formless forming for perhaps months.

It is important that there might be a few commonalities: first, I must be alone. Easy enough as my partner lives, for the time being, in England. Only a few times has the need to write a poem arisen while we’ve been under the same roof, and I have managed—but it must be said that I must feel like I am operating in total secrecy, unseen. My dog, Tilly, sighing nearby or huddled furtively on the bed is my tether to the material world. Once I have settled these matters of material neutrality—pouring a cup of coffee, taking up sometimes seven critical minutes of my writing threshold—I go to the desk. I assemble the necessary supplemental books to begin reviewing and reminding myself of language’s potentials: most often it will be Susan Howe, Lorine Niedecker, C.D. Wright. Sometimes newer things, books written by poets I know, the phase of what I’m reading shaping me. I’ll revisit poems of mine, reacquaint with their idioms. Depending on the poem’s subject matter, there will be requisite historical texts, research, family documents, photographs from a thumb drive of family material that I carry with me. Populating the visual field, drawing me out of intellectual solitude toward other arrangements, arrangers, of poems. How did they do it. How I might do it. I stave off pre-emptive attempts, as any misapplication of a word might tip this threshold of synthesis out of proportion. I move a small candle in my line of vision; I hone in sync with its energy. The approach approaches manic restlessness. If I have not left behind any residual soreness from exercise, I will take a hot bath, bring the most important book with me to read as the water rises around me. Then I lie very still. There might be a small cycle of rising, stillness, rising, approaching the texts, retreat, stillness, rising. If this fails to settle, and if I am writing of a distant time or place, I will put a song on repeat for the next few hours as I wait, write, consider, space. If I am yet still fraying beyond measure, a glass of wine will do, a shot of whiskey. That would be a rare occasion. By this time, usually, more than a few hours have passed. I begin speeding up, as when one undertakes a section of sprint in a long jog. All of this is yet anterior to actual writing. But then, I find myself in the writing, not a self but a synthesis. This is a cycle similar to ones I’ve described, but hyper-compressed. Then it is all sound drawn from a provisional sense. From a set of distances, I am trying to reach a physical place, a particular one.

If there is a deadline, I must begin negotiating with the poem, drawing it further out of the recesses before it would have possibly emerged, considering whether urgency or abbreviation of time will allow me to complete it (—it always does). I run my hands over the lateral grooves of the thrifted desk I have used since college, I play with my hair. I press my face into Tilly’s side and making strange noises. She extends a paw when I turn back to work, softly growls, eventually accepts my distraction. To give her some time, we’ll go out back so she can do her Tilly things. I stand outside, looking up, a woman emerging from her house’s glow into a wintry backyard night. Hoping no one sees. Return to the books. Most often, the keyboard; rarely, the pencil and paper. The reorientation process begins again in miniature.

Perhaps it is a mode of hypervigilance, to be never not at work shaping or considering, this process of calibration of sense and surrounding, compression of the senses, provisional interpretations. That I must wait to find a day, or a night to work into a day, to write a poem, seems even to me to be a touch absurd. Often I am inexplicably tired. So far, this cycle of approach and fulfillment has somehow worked both when I worked retail and publishing in New York City, and in my time in graduate school since. And though graduate school—even a PhD—brings its set of limitations, in financial and temporal terms, I still can mold my activity and time around undertaking this trajectory. It adapts and expands to the conditions of the life afforded me in any given circumstance. Surprising no one, I am not particularly prolific. But when I write it, I mean it.

Originally from Rome, Georgia, Alicia Wright has received fellowships from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Ecotone, Crazyhorse, West Branch, Flag + Void, Indiana Review, and Poetry Northwest, among others. At present, she is a PhD candidate in English & Literary Arts at the University of Denver, where she serves as Poetry Editor for Denver Quarterly.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Writing Day(s) : Susannah M. Smith

Writing is a way of being, a way of loving the world.


On the morning of the ideal, boundless day, I close the door to my writing studio and curl up in the dilapidated, moss-coloured velveteen chair beside the radiator. Green tea. Books. Laptop. Journal. Possibilities abound.  

After reading, meditating, researching, or all three, I move to the L-shaped space formed by my writing desk and my art table. Words and images talk to each other here. There may be generation, transcription, or revision depending on the project. There is breakfast. Sometimes followed by hot chocolate. And window gazing.

Wool carpets cover my studio floor and my collection of rocks and crystals moves fluidly across my work surface and the window ledge. During spring, ladybugs gather inside the window frame, supposedly associated with good fortune, joy and the Virgin Mary. In fall and winter, the wind and rain in the trees outside creates a cocoon for thought and imagination.

There are also ancillary activities. Looking at art books. Selecting, cutting, trimming or arranging collage materials. Watching videos about architecture, fashion designers, art history, the decline of the British aristocracy or Renaissance garden design. Drinking tea. Reading reviews. Reserving library books.

I stay in my studio until early afternoon. Then I eat, shower, dress and go outside. In rain and sun, I walk through the city, breathing fresh air and feeling the writing unspool in my mind. I listen and collect fragments and follow trails of crumbs. I scribble in a notebook. I record voice memos on my phone. I take photos. I delight.


On the other days, where there are commitments and time frames, writing happens around the edges. Dreaming followed by writing. Writing while commuting. Listening and writing. Writing between meetings. Writing during lunch. Writing on the sly. Writing in cafes. Writing in cars. Thinking and writing. Researching and writing. Stopping to write. Moments of reading that lead to writing. Inspiration is everywhere.

At night, there can be writing in varying degrees of light and activity. Writing while cooking. Writing in theaters. Writing in the bath. Writing in bed. Writing in the dark. Writing by instinct.

Even on days like these, writing accretes word by word. Worlds build themselves in increments.


Threads of intention and imagination connect my ideal writing days with days of practicality to form a continuous whole where projects take shape and come to life. The work is always being composed, in vision, language or form. It never ceases to be, "images [that] shimmer around the edges . . . everything interacting, exchanging ions." [1]

In this way, all days are writing days. Open to the thought. Open to the story. Open to the new idea. All days, this luminous scope of being.

Susannah M. Smith is the author of the novels The Fairy Tale Museum and How the Blessed Live. Her short fiction, non-fiction, poetry and artwork have appeared in various publications, including Front Magazine, The Globe and Mail, dANDelion, Event, Fireweed and The Antigonish Review. She is also a contributor to First Writes (Banff Centre Press, 2005) and All Sleek and Skimming: Stories (Orca Book Publishers, 2006). She lives in Vancouver.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

My (Small Press) Writing Day, by Laurel Miram

Subject to Change

I enjoy a fairly flexible non-writing work schedule, so the flow of my days is changeable, which is fitting. I am not an organized or systematic person, with writing or anything else. I write when I write, I suppose, and how and why and where.
I might say my designated workspace is a Microsoft Surface laptop and wherever I sit. Right now, it’s the carpet. I don’t have an office or a desk. I hope to tuck one into the alcove at the end of my hall, but that is future fodder.
A surprising amount of composition happens in my car. I don’t make phone calls while I drive. I don’t listen to the radio. I listen to the wheels—four on the car, more in my head—to the contacts they make, how they run, where they hum. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I rehearse phrases I’ve just realized so they won’t slip away. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t listen to the radio anymore.
The flesh and soul of my work emerge and fuse during lengthy drafting sessions. This is my favorite part of the writing process. I tap into lightning; the current sparks and ebbs where it will, and I am its witness. A scribe. I don’t eat. I don’t break. I sprout color. I combust. I love finishing first drafts this way. Still, I don’t mind harnessing fire with kite and key when necessary. I don’t know if either method produces better results than the other, but those inspired, gloriously intensive marathons lift the act of writing to another realm for me. I don’t come down from them until I reread what I’ve written, usually several days or weeks later. This is when the scars and misfires declare themselves. This is where the work of writing begins.
Revision and I don’t always graft. We row and slam doors and I walk away for air and space and sometimes see other people, but when we find each other on the same page, it is beautiful. As with most partnerships, we don’t really know what we’re doing until we’ve done it. It takes time, reversal, reflex, sacrifice. And lots of paper. When I believe a piece is ready, I print and read it. I catch the odd typo this way, but mostly I am listening for the music of the work. Playing by ear. I tune. I print again. I fine-tune. Print again. So on, until I read the piece and know that somebody might be able to improve it, but that someone isn’t me.
All of this happens at any point in any day, but there are patterns. Drafting is a morning or weekend affair. Editing or adding to an unfinished draft: afternoons and evenings. Weeknights are devoted to reading for The Lascaux Review and submitting my own work. And yes, wasting more time than I’d like to admit checking Duotrope to see where my current submissions stand. Or may stand. Or fall. It’s all prognostication so I don’t know why I bother. I guess it’s human to wonder.
I read journals at night, too, in addition to momentary batches of stories or poems I run across during the day. Some of this is research, some of it is in support of writers I’ve met via Twitter, to champion their work. One thing I’ve not done in a long time, at any hour, is read a book. I have several in mind—contemporary and classic—but I’m waiting. I’m looking for unimpeded, unrushed time. For distance from scouring for craft. I want the feast delights of reading, its thunder and whispers. It’s not about what I read, but how. And not “if,” just “when.”
I often fall asleep beside my laptop at night, or find that I can’t focus on what words mean anymore, and I close everything down. Midnight is the standard hour, but like everything else, this is subject to change.

Laurel Miram is an American short fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Her work appears in Nixes Mate Review and is forthcoming in OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters and the Eastern Iowa Review. She is the short fiction winner of So to Speak Journal’s 2019 contest issue.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Hokis : Perhaps My Hounds are of Baskerville

My writing routine begins about as far away from the pen imaginable: a morning dog walk. My hounds pull on my leash, as my body weaves to avoid  limbs tangled in the nylon tethers. I often imagine passersby are giggling at the contact improv performance.  As I flow with the dogs, enjoying the moment, my mind is free not to think - but rather wander, or even wonder.  What happened in my dreams last night? Why were bugs crawling on me? Why is it that a year’s worth of floss is always wrapped around my teeth, seeming to tighten the more I tug and pull to be free?  Why did I not dream? Why am I afraid of becoming unwound, falling apart at the seams, only to meet the bugs rooted in dirt? BING! There is the poem. I come home and sit at my computer, frantically typing as I live in fear that the words will leave me.  The precise order might jumble in my aging brain, and all will be lost!

If I get that inevitable block we all know too well, I glance to my left.  The bearded dragon and I stare at each other. Breathe together. If the flood gates don't open, I look to my right.  Sitting on the light olive lounger is one of my two black cats. Sleeping like a Buddha; legs crossed, eyes closed, here and not here.  Sometimes looking at the cat makes me sleepy, so I go for grounding. I move my feet ever so slightly under my desk. My toes meet the underbelly of my German shepherd, loyally resting there.  Her poem will be titled "The Squirrel that Got Away."

It is about noon now, and I’m finished with morning writing.  By finished I mean guilt has interrupted my train of thought. I turn to domestic chores. My mind continues to spin, why this root word and that root word are a letter apart and mean such different things? Alter and altar. Wait, do they really mean different things? I live out the next few hours with the flow of life, vacuuming dust, dishes out, dishes in, soiled socks become clean. All the while, I live in my subconscious.  I can hear my therapist affirm that I live here more than anywhere else. I thank the magical stars for writing or I might just wind into a tight ball and get stuck in my teeth again. 

I take notes on the "chore-induced inner dialogue" and allow others words in to play.  I so prefer holding a book to reading on the computer.  Alas, the world again decides I must let go of my preferences.  It is interesting that when I read on a screen I feel compelled to read the entire piece. When I read from the paper page my college-day habit returns ... pausing ... scribbling notes ... highlighting.  Sometimes I end up writing entire poems in the margins from a quake that began with one word. This is my definition of beautiful. I am satisfied and my writing routine pauses for family time: 4:00-9:00 pm.  My attention is fully engaged in daily reviews, dinner, dog walk with my spouse, chatter with my teenager. This is also a definition for beautiful. 

Then comes reading when it's dark.  You know the sensation this brings, right?.  My corner of the world is closing its day. Everyone is tucked in.  Dragon's full spectrum bulb turned off. Cats outside to prowl for the night.  Dogs on the foot of the bed. Husband snoring. I pull out a book and digest it, like it is dendrite dream fuel.  The words do their nightly workout within my lucid dreams. I wake in the morning, ready to walk the dogs again. The book last night was about the ghosts of lives we did not live, but glace towards often.  Well, this is what I thought it was about. No matter, I am certain this morning walk is going to be a good one.

Hokis {n., /hō/kēs/ Armenian for “my soul“}

Hokis is founder & senior editor of Headline Poetry and a regular contributor for Reclamation Magazine.  Her recent work is also found with Nymphs, Caustic Frolic, Paragon Press, and in the Indie Blu(e) Anthology: SMITTEN.  Links to her published work are found @  You connect thru @hokispoetry on tw | in | fb.