Sunday, September 13, 2020

Tommy O’Rourke : My Small Press Writing Day

I spend a lot of time thinking about the end of the world. I wake up, shuffle to the kitchen, spoon coffee grounds into a filter, and, while the machine gurgles, think how our ongoing apocalypse is beginning to mirror what the prophets envisioned. The surrealistic Johannine revelation of flaming skies in wildfires up and down the west coast. Boshean rapture in the streets in Portland. How to square these images with the whimper of our year, the boredom of quarantine? There’s no visionary parallel for the more mundane plagues: income inequity, mild winters, and bullish oil futures.

A couple years ago, I stood in the Sistine Chapel and gawked at the self-portrait Michelangelo snuck into his Last Judgement. In a gesture akin to flagellation, the Florentine grafted his own visage onto the flayed skin of Saint Bartholomew. What was he thinking about as he brushed his face onto a boneless body that dangles from the saint’s hand like a saddle from a peg? Sometimes, I think of my days as a series of these amorphous human shells, hung on some infinitely receding department store rack, a Target of the flesh.

My typical writing day consists of trying to reduce my body to complete transparency. I open my spiral notebook, click a pen, and, if I’m lucky, can see right through my hand as it scrawls across the page. The desire to slowly disintegrate may be the only constant that unifies my disparate attempts at writing something that constitutes a new form of breath, a new poem, itself a means of disintegration. In order to get there, I need to descend into language like a glass of tap water poured into Lake Michigan. The most terrible aspect of my poetics is that it’s a battle against my own intentions. The only way I know I’ve written something worthwhile is if it feels as though it were written by somebody else. The muses, God, the unconscious, call it what you want, to some degree--I do not know how to explain this feeling--I have not written anything.

Once, I had dinner with the late Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun. As a teenager, he wanted to be a conceptual artist. “Then one day,” he said, “poetry fell to me like stones from the sky.” Once, maybe twice a month, I wake to a loud crash and find a small mineral deposit steaming on my bedroom floor.

As you can see, I have trouble writing about writing. How do I write? I’m sitting in a chair behind a desk and looking at a screen. I’m drinking coffee. It’s morning. Some days I do this, some days I don’t. I teach English as a foreign language from the same chair. At night, I read. Right now, I’m reading The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch, a book fundamentally concerned with question of language, whether it is adequate to describe the unfathomable plurality of the present, whether the multiplicity bound up in instants of time can be rendered comprehensible in words.

I do not think our language is adequate for this task. Tragically, this is why I write, and it is why I write what and how I write: form, content, and process.

Hermann Broch began writing The Death of Virgil in a concentration camp. He finished it in the United States. Currently, in the United States, there are people in concentration camps. Many of them are writing. I spend a lot of time thinking about the word “end,” the word “world.” The poet Kaveh Akbar asks us, “What does it mean to be a poet working in a language, a medium, a nation, that can produce this?”

Tommy O’Rourke lives and teaches in Chicago. His poetry has appeared in Hobart, Why nICHt?, and elsewhere. He is currently translating a book of poems by the German Expressionist poet Georg Heym. He tweets @tommy_orourk.

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Very Untypical – Typical Writing Day for C. Cimmone

I’ll just go ahead and level with you now: I love my bed. My bed is the only place I can relax, be comfortable from head to toe, oh, and not have to wear pants. Well, I guess I could be pant-free or topless at different writing venues, but I believe that’s frowned upon.

Moving on. My typical writing day starts with coffee. I sit out with the dog (Hammy the standard poodle) and watch him chew cicadas and left-over June bugs. He gets his fill and we head inside to ‘the bedroom.’ He’s a fine gentleman in bed – he only requires I let him lick my arm for a few minutes and then he drifts off into whatever type of REM cycle dogs have.

Once he’s kicking his back legs in a puppy dream, I untangle 15 cords and plug in my laptop. I have a Dell blah blah whatever it is (& insert memory and speed here too) with a touch screen. The touch screen is my BFF because I run a lit mag – Versification – and it helps me scroll through the issue I’m working on and then – BOOM – go into panic mode when something is wrong. Good times.

When I get inspiration, or finally have written a simmering story in my head, I pull up the blankets, turn on an episode of Dateline, Bojack Horseman, or Portlandia, MUTE IT, and get to typing. I prefer silence when I write. Sometimes I can tolerate a bit of background noise, like the sandwich guy ringing my doorbell, but for the most part, I keep it quiet. Yes, I’m THIS boring.

I may get up to grab juice, cheese, hummus, or make a baked potato (with cheese, sour cream and onions). Sometimes I wander around the house to stretch my legs because I’m paranoid of blood clots from sitting so long. No, I’m not that old, I just may have a slight case of hypochondria.

The only complaint I have about my ‘writing area’ is too much light. A lot of light seems to creep in, despite my heavy, green, velvet curtains. I hate the light. I hate noise. Perhaps I am a vampire. Maybe so. Either way, I will forever write in a low lit, cozy and quiet space. Judge me, unfollow me, hate on my choice of binge watching television – I don’t care – just leave my writing sanctuary alone.

C Cimmone is a North American author, comic, and editor. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Versification and serves as Editor-at-Large for Trampset.

Her narrative, creative nonfiction poetry and prose possess dark tones, often emphasizing women’s sexuality, mental health, substance abuse, and coming-of-age.

Her work has been featured in a menagerie of publications.

Follow Cimmone @diefunnier on Twitter and read more about her at

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

James Hawes : My Writing Day

          I wake up and try to remember a dream I had, won’t go over it here because nothing is less interesting as someone else’s dream. Groping for any residual images I smell the coffee my wife Judi was kind enough to make. Waffles. Waffles are in the freezer. In the four years since I got a waffle iron for my birthday we have not eaten a store bought waffle. I think I’ll have one savoury with some sharp cheddar, and one sweet with runny fig jam. Oh yeah the dream, ah forget it.
          My notebook peeks out from under some books on my bedside table. I love notebooks. I love gear in general and notebooks and a good pen are pretty much the only gear in a poet’s kit. My current notebook is a Baron Fig Confidant, the fabric cover feels good in my hands and the heavy paper really soaks up the ink. I have ten or so new pages of notes, maybe I can glean a poem or two from them. I thumb through it in bed. I come across a poem I wrote months ago, but never transcribed it to my computer. It’s not bad, not sure why I left it there, maybe I just forgot about it. I’m fifty now and forgetting things like dreams, poems, seems to be part of things.
          It’s Saturday so I put on my robe and go downstairs. Judi has been up for hours. In that time she has made coffee, gone for her morning hyper-walk, fed the cats, started laundry. Now she is on the sofa with her laptop waiting for me to make breakfast, as I do every Saturday. I pour myself some coffee and stare out the kitchen window for an undetermined period of time. The cardinal is back in our yard. I love how clean and red he is, he looks curious about something. I make a small note of this.
          I make us each a poached egg on a waffle with some avocado slices. We eat in front of one of the sixty-two episodes of Jeopardy we have saved on our DVR. Alex Trebek is looking unwell, he has cancer. I don’t know when this episode was recorded, for all I know he could be laying in a hospital room with tubes. But according to this episode he is alive and still charming as hell, so there is comfort in that. As we fast-forward through commercials I think about the notebook on my nightstand. A pleasurable feeling of anticipation washes over me as I picture myself transcribing it, coming up with some poems, or at least the start of some poems. Meanwhile I cheer on the technical writer from Olympia Washington, my wife roots for the marketing analyst from Mount Vernon Ohio. We both lose, the money goes to the insurance adjuster from Shafter Nevada. Typical.
          I go upstairs and return to my notebook and lie on my bed. Carly comes up for cuddles. Carly is a domestic longhair cat and she does not take no for an answer. I am Carly’s human, it is a great compliment when a cat chooses you. She lies on my chest and purrs as I rub her ears and stroke her long back. I find petting her very relaxing and never seem to tire of it. She has a profoundly calming effect on my mind. It does make me sleepy though, I nod off for a bit. Carly wakes me by gently putting her paw in my mouth. I try not to think about where that paw has been as I gather myself and make my way to my desk downstairs.
          Sofia is in the basement cleaning herself in the chair next to my desk. Sofia is a black cat and she has yet to choose her human, so she plays the field indifferently. Our younger son seems to be first in the running, the rest of us are very jealous.
          Before getting into my notebook I try a little writing exercise, it’s good to limber up a little. I use an app on my phone that generates random words, three at a time. I take those three words and make a line. I repeat this until I have a page full of lines, or until I don’t feel like doing it anymore. Sometimes this comes to nothing, most of the time this creates some startling appositions. I find this an effective way to find a place to start, which is sometimes all you need. I spend about an hour doing this, if nothing else this fills in a blank page, this is important psychologically. Then I leave it alone, I will come back to this page in a few days with fresh eyes. I find writing poetry is like picking blackberries­—one day I look under some leaves and find nothing, the next day the same stem is heavy with gleaming berries. It’s weird, but it helps me remember there are forces at play beyond the self.
          On a fresh page in my notebook I write the words “Shafter Nevada.”
          Some of my notes are about a girl I knew in high school. I was not very nice to her once and it still bugs me to this day what an ass I was. I think she liked me and I was young and thoughtless and had no idea what to do with the responsibility of a fourteen year old girl’s affection. On the top of a new blank page on my computer I write “An Apology to Sarah Wells.” I don’t use her real name, that would be tacky. There is a lot to unpack in my head when I think about Sarah, so the writing flows pretty easily. Some of it from my notes, some of it new and of the moment. My fingers have trouble keeping up with my thoughts. I love it when this happens. It’s like going on a heater in Las Vegas, you don’t want to mess with it, you ride it out as long as you can.
The dryer signals that it is done, if the poem was not going well I would use this as an excuse to get up from my desk and progress on the day’s chores. I let the laundry sit as I squeeze out what I can from this small winning streak I have stumbled upon.
I figure out a great way to finish the poem, based on real events. It is a prose poem, I find myself writing more of these lately. Once I write down the ending I stop, read it through, fixing a few minor things along the way and get the laundry from the dryer. It is mostly my older son’s clothes. I fold it and bring it up to his room.
I decide I’m done for the day, for now. I will keep my notebook handy for any sparks of inspiration, but it has been a productive morning, actually it is two in the afternoon now. I have lost track of time and I’d better get on with other things. I have some blackbean soup to make and I think my son needs new shoes for school.

James Hawes lives and writes in Montreal. He shares his home in the borough of NDG with his wife Judi and sons Jackson and Jonathan. He has two very demanding cats Carly and Sofia for whom he spends much of his time opening doors and ensuring they get enough cuddles. He makes great soups, fantastic waffles and mediocre vinaigrettes.  His work has appeared in various online and print publications. His chapbook Bus Metro Walk was published by Monk Press in 2018. His first full length poetry collection Breakfast With A Heron was publish by Mansfield Press in 2019. He is very proud of his beard.