Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Claudia Serea : My pandemic writing day


I don’t have a favorite place or time to write. I don’t sit in a favorite chair, or gaze out the window. Ok, some gazing is involved, because I stare blankly when I play with lines or scenes in my head. But my writing day does not have a set schedule because writing comes in short bursts at all times of day.

I used to write on my daily bus commute between New Jersey and New York. Before the pandemic, I commuted about an hour each way, and I used that time to read and write. I always carried a notebook and jotted down fragments of thoughts or poems, sometimes long, sometimes very short.

Now I work from home, and I don’t find the same time for myself that I used to have on the bus.

My job as a copywriter starts at 9 a.m. and I usually don’t have time to think about poetry. I start my day reading The Writer’s Almanac I get in my inbox each morning, then it’s all about writing the emails and brochures that pay the bills. I work in my makeshift office in my dining room.

I go back to reading and writing for my own pleasure at the end of the day. I started to keep a pandemic journal in March, and I always have books to read on my table. So now my poems are written mostly at night, between 10:30 p.m. and 12 a.m. when I find time to read and think. I write down the fragments in my notebook, and I go back often to see if I can pull together an entire poem from them. I also tend to revise in my notebook which becomes an awful mess I clean up still in long hand, with a clearer understanding of the direction it’s taking me.

Every few days, I string a poem from these fragments. I think about poems while I’m doing my regular job, housework, or gardening, and revise them in my head. I type the draft on Sunday afternoons on the laptop I keep on my dining room table.

I’m fortunate to belong to The Red Wheelbarrow Poets group that holds a weekly workshop on Zoom every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. I usually revise my poem in Word on Monday night, getting ready for the workshop on Tuesday where we share and critique our poems. The workshop forces me to come up with a new poem each week, good or bad. I highly recommend joining a similar poetry group, or creating one if it doesn’t exist in your neighborhood. The workshop provides accountability and invaluable feedback, a “test-drive” for the poems to see if they work.

After the workshop on Tuesdays, I don’t like to revise a lot—I like to be “done.” So, on Wednesday, I make the revisions suggested and I am either done and submit the poem right away to be published, or, if I’m not happy with it, I let it sit a while. I always submit for publication everything I write, and publish about 80% of my writing in journals or magazines. I don’t let my poems sit in a drawer, and I don’t revise them endlessly.

In time, I gather enough work for a poetry collection. I think I write several books at the same time, not in a linear fashion, but very scattered. I jump from free verse narrative, to free verse surreal, to prose poetry surreal, and sometimes I mix and match. Sometimes, the poems combine several themes that intertwine. I write mostly free verse, and on occasion, prose poems. My prose poems are the strangest ones, with a more surprising, absurd bent. They are so much fun to write, a little magic and mischievous. I have a new collection of surreal prose poems and flash pieces forthcoming in 2022 from Unsolicited Press, Writing on the Walls at Night.

I try to make my books different from each other, to surprise my readers. I don’t like how some poets write the same, never-ending poem all their life in all their books. Of course, I repeat my themes: Romania, history, Bucharest and New York City, immigration, childhood, my parents, my brother, they all show up in my poems. I guess the single thread connecting my books is my life. You can open each one and find my footsteps, and hear my voice. I hope you do.




Claudia Serea’s poems and translations have been published in Field, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Notre Dame Review, The Malahat Review, The Puritan, Oxford Poetry, Asymptote, and elsewhere. She is the author of five poetry collections and four chapbooks, most recently Twoxism, a collaboration with visual artist Maria Haro (8th House Publishing, 2018). Her sixth collection of poetry, Writing on the Walls at Night, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2022. Serea’s poem My Father’s Quiet Friends in Prison, 1958-1962 received the 2013 New Letters Readers Award. She won the Levure Littéraire 2014 Award for Poetry Performance, and she was featured in the documentary Poetry of Witness (2015). Serea’s poems have been translated in French, Italian, Arabic, and Farsi, and have been featured in The Writer’s Almanac. Serea is a founding editor of National Translation Month, and she co-hosts The Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Readings in Rutherford, NJ. She blogs here, and you can find her on Twitter/Instagram @Claudia_poetry or on Facebook.

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