Friday, December 20, 2019

My Writer’s Day – Kenneth M Cale

When I think of the phrase, writer’s day, I think of songwriter, novelist, and performer, Nick Cave, whose routine involves commuting across town to an office and then writing from 9 am until 5pm. To me, his writer’s day sounds fantastic, not only in the wonderful sense of the word, but more so in the fanciful sense: as much as I would like it to be otherwise, writing has never been (and probably won’t ever be) central in my life. Around the concurrent narratives of me as a father, partner, and teacher, writing exists like an annotation in the margin of my day.

Appropriately enough, my work itself is also away from the center of things. Sometimes it’s categorized as visual poetry or hybrid, poem brut or other. My works are (usually) combinations of hand-written poetry, collage, and abstract art, with the presence of each element varying from piece to piece.  It’s possible for me to complete a work, or a component of one, in a relatively short space of time. This is advantageous: ever since the birth of my daughter, I’ve been conscious of the limited time available for writing-related stuff and increasingly anxious to make the most of it. 

Currently, I have a few recurring windows of time to work in: Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8 until 10; Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 2pm-4pm. On weeknights, I’m able to find 20-30-minute ad hoc blocks too. I keep my daily goals small and try to accomplish something each time, whether it’s scanning collages or sending out submissions, digitally manipulating images or editing a few lines I want to use from an old notebook.

So, given that my process is as much of a collage as the pieces I create, it’s hard for me to talk about a writer’s day in the conventional sense. Instead, I offer some writing diary entries covering a two-week period, about four hours of work total.  

Sunday afternoon: Recently it occurred to me I haven’t compiled any recent work, so I copy all my published and unpublished pieces into a word doc. Soon it’s a 71-page word doc. My initial reluctance to cut abates, and, subject to my own undefined, internal criteria, I get the document down to 53 pages. Three separate chapbooks? I also hit upon the idea of combining two previously published pieces, Injustice and Intrazonal notes, and the resultant hybrid looks both striking and strong (to me, at least). 

Tuesday evening: One of my favorite recent pieces has been rejected. The editor says they loved the piece, but as the collages constituted art, and the publisher handles all art for the anthology, they had to say no to it. The editor’s email is sweet and supportive, but, ultimately, it’s a rejection. Disappointed and discouraged, I spend the rest of the evening reading Mary Gabriel’s awesome Ninth Street Women.

Thursday morning: An old poem pops into my head: a pastiche of Gertrude Stein’s If I told him. On finding it, I notice it has the least poetic working title in the history of literature: The Banker Arthur (TBA). Not completely put off, I read it over. With a few edits and the right visuals, it might work. I whittle its ragged threepagedness down to a semi-ragged one.

Saturday afternoon:  NSW mentions how most of Joan Mitchell’s time in the studio was spent looking at her paintings. It got me thinking: How much of my writing is actually just looking? A lot, it turns out. As well as glancing over the chapbook(s), today I pull out a work which always seems to resist being finished, the appropriately titled, What Remains. Unlike others from the same period - finished, since published - WR has never been right. The text itself is fine, but not the visual component. I identify what’s wrong with the current version: instead of creating a harmony or dissonance, the background’s black abstract lines blur together with the handwritten index cards. The more I look at WR, the more it seems stringy, indistinct. 17th totally new approach needed.

Tuesday morning: TBA needs more work than I first thought. Also, the last line will not come. It hangs at the periphery of my mind. The phrasing latent but unwilling to surface. Chapbooks:  I have three variations on a 15-page chapbook now. The longer collection sits at 36 pages.

Thursday evening: Abandoning WR (again), my thoughts turn to another unfinished piece, LotusFlowers. This started as a poem, but feels more short story-ish. In my journal I note: what I’ve written so far feels like prologue. As I make veggie Bolognese and list plot ideas for it, I look again at that note and laugh: this is pretty much how I feel about all of my writing so far.

Kenneth M Cale is visual poet and collagist currently living in Oregon. Recent work can be found in Always Crashing Online+, Talking About Strawberries All the Time, and Word For/Word. twitter: @kmcale81

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