Friday, February 12, 2021

Small Press Writing Day : Christopher Schmidt

About a year ago I placed my writing desk in front of a window. Only last week did I finally clear away a monitor to open up the view. I fantasized this would open up new prospects in writing, force a confrontation with the real (whatever that may be).
            Today, square in my vision is a person shoveling snow, digging out a blue Volvo from yesterday’s nor’easter. I fixate on the shovel’s blade and handle. They are school-bus yellow, a cheering color in a field of white and gray. The shoveler is exhausted, wants to give up. Finally he does and scrambles over a snowbank to reach the curb.
            Could this be a parable for today’s writing? No parables, please. No, really.

This week I’ve been reworking a set of conversations with the architect Wesley Macedo. I’m folding them into a dossier of site writings about landscape and queer spaces, mostly in Brazil. Today I wrote up notes on our talk about mid-century São Paulo architecture. The passage in the conversation I keep circling isn’t about history, though. It’s just a dollop of language, accidental poetry found in translation. (My halting Portuguese means Wesley and I speak in English—the privilege of ignorance—so the translation is his.) I ask if there’s a chance we might be allowed to visit a famous mural by the designer Roberto Burle Marx, tucked away in a private building.
            “Maybe,” he says. “But really maybe.”

I like how Wesley almost sings the words in the original recording, which echo in my head as I read. He pulls on the word really like it’s a trombone slide.
             The poetry of the phrasing lies in the errant—queer?—way he bends maybe into a position it doesn’t usually assume. The phrase contains a paradoxical magnetism, cousin words that point in different directions. Really is emphatic. It amplifies. Maybe, two verbs wedded into adverb, keeps possibility open, with more than a pinch of doubt. It apologizes for the bossiness of its partner. Maybe… is a way of suspending decision, the ghost of a possible yes that in retrospect turns no.

            The more I worry the phrase, I wonder if it doesn’t capture a relation to my writing: a will-to-claim followed by equivocation. Really tries to convince, to make you see it my way. Maybe backs down, acknowledges other points of view. Or maybe I’ve just worried the phrase to death, and it’s humoring me with meaning so I’ll leave it alone.


Lyn Hejinian traces her origins as a poet to the pleasures found in the materials of writing: the kinetic typewriter, the smudgy letterpress. A few months ago, I broke with the computer and started to write longhand in notebooks. To recapture the thrill of ink, I bought a cheap yellow fountain pen—a happy shade, same as the shovel.
            Because my handwriting is almost illegible, I’m temporarily freed from quality control. I can’t rescan what I’ve written with a cold editor’s eye. I let myself skate. (Full disclosure: this diary I’ve written on a computer, which means I’ve fussed words relentlessly.)

            In my zeal to organize, I’ve invented a system of notebooks. Rather than a diary of my writing day, I give you its spatial coordinates, color-coded:

-          A pewter-gray notebook contains process notes. Meta-reflections kept intruding into the text of whatever I wrote. Very Ashbery, but it was becoming a manner or a bad habit. This notebook is a sandbox where unruly thoughts can play.

-          A mango notebook for the dossier of site writings mentioned above. A full draft of the project lives on my computer—oh so many drafts—but it’s helpful to have a separate place to sketch new excursions.

-          A manila notebook for poetry. It’s a quirky assemblage of different paper types sewn into a monster fascicle: gridded, lined, blank, colored. Lately ignored.

-          A black soft-covered Moleskine diary for daily journaling.

-          A Muji notebook to record novels I’ve read as I study the form. I just finished Gerald Murnane’s The Plains and Christina Rivera Garza’s The Taiga Syndrome. Yesterday I started Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast, published posthumously by CUNY’s The Feminist Press. (Her collected poems is also nearby.) Next up is Allison Cobb’s Plastic: An Autobiography and Jenny Erpenbeck’s Not a Novel. At bedtime, I’ve been slowly working through Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, a gift. I read a chapter every night and expect I’ll still be plowing through it in March. Diarmuid Hester’s excellent Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper has inspired me to reread Cooper’s sneaky novel Sluts, which I alternate with Mann for a darker bedtime story.

-          The last notebook features bank-ledger smooth paper, Japanese in origin, that is an almost obscene pleasure to put pen on. It’s for a fiction project I’m developing. I began it in Scrivener, which led to fragmentation. Writing longhand has given me at least the illusion of forward momentum. Now it’s time to review what’s there and see if anything is worth rescuing.



Christopher Schmidt is a poet, critic, and Professor of English and Liberal Studies at City University of New York, LaGuardia CC and CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of The Next in Line (poems), Thermae (poetry chapbook), and The Poetics of Waste: Queer Excess in Stein, Ashbery, Schuyler, and Goldsmith (criticism). Recent work has appeared in Fence, Denver Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, and Bookforum. An essay on Brazilian landscape in Elizabeth Bishop and Roberto Burle Marx is forthcoming at Modernism/modernity.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

my (small press) writing day - Aimée Lê


Since the onset of Covid-19 I have contributed several urgent essays on labour movement strategy which have had some degree of influence in my union. These were co-written but my willingness to crank out the prose was important and so I take credit for that aspect.

I strongly oppose the idea of the pure literary innovator on the basis that all thoughts arrive in a language that we did not create. In that way all writing is co-production and my role is sometimes just to be the person passively receiving and structuring the articulations of others, like a tape recorder with a brain. However, this idea that no individual is truly innovative suggests that the most banal acts of resignification can be innovative articulations, which is indeed how I experience them.

I have a very hard time articulating myself under my own name. I have never been able to have control over my day. I am not sure if I will eventually develop a routine or if that is anathema to me. I have many habits, but I am trying to suggest something more conscious and self-aware through the word ‘routine’. I do have a number of writing practices however.

My first practice is crying. I often cry when writing, as the writing process can be distressing for me. This can be true of any form of sincere communication. I often use the Notes app on my phone to write, which suggests the genre of ‘influencer publicly apologising to their fans’. Frankly, I don’t think it’s the best way to do things, but this is the reality. I often cry when reading my work out loud to others, but I enjoy that kind of crying.

I often write in bed because I cannot justify sitting in a chair to write on a laptop, a device literally designed to be used anywhere. I used to put my laptop on my chest and write that way, beginning around age 11 with my first ‘laptop’, which ran Windows 95 and had no internet capacity. Unfortunately, as my eyesight has gotten worse over the years, I cannot put a laptop on my chest and take my glasses off in bed anymore unless I enlarge the font to comical sizes. On the other hand, I am capable of writing for a long time while sitting at a desktop. This is because a desktop to me possesses a maternal metaphor: it is plugged into the wall, it has an umbilical cord.

I took my first laptop to the UK but someone from TSA violently pounded on it, cracking the plastic, so I have never brought it outside of its zone of safety again and it still lives in Michigan with my parents where I hope to eventually return to it. My second laptop was a Dell which I purchased from my university in 2008. I eventually gave it to a dyspraxic friend who destroyed it within a month. My third laptop (my ‘current wife’) is a Lenovo from about 2010 or so which I bought secondhand but which still feels alienatingly new and trendy. Those who know me will be aware that I try to replicate the feeling of Windows 95 as closely as possible.

I do also write by hand, although I preferred typing as a child. If I have a draft that is moving I like to cycle it through several iterations of: hand-write, type, print, read aloud, make hand-written edits, type them, etc.. My dream is to reinstate companions willing to listen to me read each new installation of my writing aloud, as this does help me and it is the common thread in all my best writing. You would think I would have selected my partners and closest friends on this basis but unfortunately not, although that is fine and they have other qualities.

Sometimes I walk down the street writing in the Notes app without looking at where I am going which I find very enjoyable especially as it adds dramatic tension to my walk and performatively rejects the world, which could take revenge upon me at any moment by manifesting a solid obstacle. This is the next step up from walking while reading which I also do but which doesn’t give the same high that it used to. Writing on my phone in the bath is also exciting in the same way. The risk is heightened. I dropped my phone in the water recently and it actually slipped completely under the water but I caught it and threw it out of the bathtub and it was fine. I like to think of myself as Leó Szilárd who was notoriously fat, lazy and an absolute genius in the bathtub. You have to hydrate continually if the bathwater starts out really hot, however, and at some point you have to abandon writing and actually e.g. exfoliate.

This was written in the bath on the Notes app.



Aimée Lê is a Vietnamese American writer. She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at Exeter University and a member of the Royal Holloway Poetics Research Centre.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Greg Hill : My Writing Day – February 6, 2021


7:00 a.m. - No alarm goes off on Saturday, but my three daughters are up by now anyway, playing nicely with each other—or yelling and fighting, depending on your definition of “playing nicely.” I struggle out of bed while my wife, KJ, continues sleeping, about the only day of the week she isn’t up early. I wash up and head downstairs to turn on three important things: television, hot water kettle, and oven. English Premier League soccer begins in a half hour, I need hot water for French Press coffee, and the oven takes a half hour to get up to temperature. I let the dog out onto the snowy backyard. When he barks at me from the back door, I let him back in.

7:30 a.m. - With a soccer game starting in the background, I grind coffee and make a carafe of coffee, the official fuel of writers. The days are getting noticeably longer. Beyond the window above the sink, I notice the sun is now peaking out from the left side of the tree at the far side of the neighbor’s yard to the east. A week ago, the morning sun was to the right of that tree. When the oven is ready, I toss in a baking sheet of bacon, and hard boil a bunch of eggs in a pot on the stove. Upstairs, the girls increase their volume. I toast a half loaf of bread.

8:00 a.m. - Breakfast is ready. My wife corrals our daughters downstairs, turns off the TV and pours herself a coffee. Anyone want toast? Pass the eggs please. Do we have salt and pepper? 

8:45 a.m. - Despite my asking twice, the girls “forget” to clear their dishes, but they are getting ready for their 9:00 a.m. group piano class, via Zoom. I pour the dredges of lukewarm coffee from the French Press into my mug and down it quickly in a few gulps.

9:00 a.m. - The piano class starts on time. The nine-year old and almost seven-year old have been taking lessons longer, so they’re used to the drill. Their five-year old sister has just started, so this is her first weekend group lesson. They sit three aside at the piano in the living room, my wife’s laptop facing them from a small table on one side of the piano. I grab my laptop, plop down on the couch, in the living room but off camera, and open up my current writing project. With one ear toward the out-of-tune piano, I try to concentrate on my own work. It’s the best chance I’ll have all morning to write.

10:00 a.m. - The girls’ piano class is done. The eldest daughter rushes upstairs for two more Zoom classes, jazz dance, followed immediately by a conditioning class. She’ll be on her own laptop in her room until noon. The other two play haphazardly at the piano, as if their lesson meant nothing, then run off to play on the trampoline and gymnastics mat in their upstairs playroom. I keep working on my laptop, but turn on the TV for the start of the second soccer game of the morning. Maybe I’ll get to watch more than just a half hour of this one.

10:45 a.m. - Halftime in the soccer game, and the dishes won’t do themselves. I take a break from writing to load and run the dishwasher.

11:15 a.m. - I aim to put in another forty-five minutes to an hour of writing, though, admittedly, the game is still on in the background, and the internet is its own distracting temptation. If I can’t gain traction in my writing, some Saturdays I’ll use this time to submit poems to a literary magazine. I have a goal to get 100 rejections each year. I’ve had this goal for four or five years now. I’ve never hit the target. Last year was the worst year by far in terms of my number of submissions, so I’m determined this year to submit at least a couple times each week. It’s February and already I’m behind schedule. Today I’m continuing to work on one of several long-term projects in experimental poetry where I’m working with strict constraints.

11:45 a.m. - My wife enters the family room with a week’s worth of mail. We have a bad habit of leaving it in a basket by the front door and dealing with it on the weekend. Well, it’s the weekend. She tosses me three bills and a donation receipt. I write checks and file the bills. My wife gathers materials for our two younger daughters to start an art project in our first floor playroom (the room where our previous owners had their dining room).

12:00 p.m. - Checks in stamped envelopes and in a basket by the back door, I return to my laptop where I half ignore the highlights of the soccer game. My eldest daughter’s last Zoom meeting ends. She comes downstairs and immediately she complains that her sisters are doing an art project without her, but quickly quiets down when she is included.

12:30 p.m. - I pause my work on the experimental poetry I’m working on. I’ve been working on it on and off for several years now. It’s overwhelming in its size and scope—a book length single poem—and the project is mentally taxing. I fear I’ll never finish it, but, more so, I fear that once completed, no publisher will care to publish it. In the kitchen, I clear the breakfast dishes my daughters “forgot,” and make a second carafe of coffee. Back in the living room, a third consecutive Premier League soccer game plays to no one.

12:45 p.m. - I check email on my phone. One email announces an extension of the deadline to submit to a poetry contest. Last year, I submitted the fifteen-dollar fee to that contest and got my rejection about six months after they had published their winning submission. I delete the email. The girls’ art project is, predictably, a mess. My wife leads the cleanup and tells the girls to wash up for lunch. In the cabinet above the toaster is a pillbox labeled “THE OLD MAN.” I refill each box with the requisite pills, then take the Saturday pills.

1:00 p.m. - It’s the top of the hour before we finally gather everyone in the kitchen for lunch. One wants peanut butter and jelly. One wants a yogurt and can’t commit to what else she wants. One just wants to dance in the kitchen, flailing around and risking accidentally kicking someone else.

1:15 p.m. - The three girls finalize their lunch orders and I hustle around the kitchen making what they want. 

1:30 p.m. - The girls forget to clear their dishes again, and run upstairs. I remember I haven’t made lunch for myself. I rectify the omission, and pour more coffee.

1:40 p.m. - There’s more screaming upstairs. My wife is issuing consequences, separating them into individual rooms and demanding quiet. I stare down at my lunch, a bowl of last night’s leftover takeout: Lamb Korma, Chicken Pathia and jasmine rice. 

1:50 p.m. - The house is bustling. I leave dirty dishes in the sink and urge the girls to get ready to leave. We’re all about to leave the house for the first time today.

2:00 p.m. - The eldest daughter has an outdoor, masks on, playground play date. My wife drops her off, a block away, then takes the middle daughter out for a special mommy-daughter date of their own. That leaves me to host a special father-daughter play date that our youngest is not thrilled about. In fact, she’s wildly angry that she can’t spend time with Mommy instead. I let her cry it out for a few minutes and check Twitter. I quickly confirm my hypothesis: that was a waste of time.

2:05 p.m. - My daughter is still angry, though some of it is the skilled acting of a five-year old. I close my laptop, find her at the kitchen table, and tickle her until morale improves. Frankly, it’s a better use of my typing fingers than doomscrolling social media. 

2:15 p.m. - My daughter’s finally dressed for the outdoors. We head outside.

2:30 p.m. - A beautiful city park is two blocks away. My daughter plays by herself at the south entrance, a waist-high stonewall that today serves as a fort, mountain and playground slide. I sit to the side and let her imagination rule. Meanwhile, my mind vacillates between my daughter’s fantasy world and the section of my experimental poetry project I had been working on this morning. When she tires of playing at the entrance wall, we build a snowman of misshapen snow, a poor figure with a crooked twiggy smile, bark eyes, and tufts of dead pine needles that are either pigtails or eyebrows, we can’t decide.

3:15 p.m. - She’s done playing outside, so we walk back together, stopping periodically to make snowballs to toss at each other. I land a couple near her boots. She’s more determined for the kill; by the time we get home, she’s improved her aim to hit the back of my jacket. Back inside the house, we line up our boots by the radiator and hang up our other winter clothes. I can hear soccer game number four playing on the TV in the living room. It’s scoreless for now.

3:45 p.m. - “Daddy, can I have a snack?” She grabs a granola bar from the cupboard. I make hot chocolate for her, a special treat. “Okay, today is a good day,” she decides, “because I get to build a snowman and have hot chocolate.” Given her outbursts earlier, before we went to the park, I have to take this as a huge parenting win: she called today a good day. To her mug I add three large marshmallows. I grab my laptop from the living room and sit down with it next to her at the kitchen table. There are a couple other writing projects I’m working on, so I consider my work on the large, experimental poetry project done for now. I have an online weekly writing group on Tuesday evenings, 8:30-10:00 p.m. Aside from today, that’s the only predictable day of the week where I know I have time to write. Over the last month or so, I had been using each Tuesday’s three twenty-minute “writing sprints” to work on a chapbook of aleatory poetry, but maybe I’ll return to the long, experimental project this Tuesday night.

3:55 p.m. - My daughter’s grabbed a spoon from the utensil drawer and after eating the marshmallows first, she’s drinking the hot chocolate a spoonful at a time, slurping and spilling it down her chin. She’s lost in the moment. Then she stops and looks up. “I wonder what twenty plus twenty is,” she asks, to the universe if not to me. I let her mind work it out, but I don’t answer. “Thirteen?” I shake my head no. She returns to slurping the hot chocolate, unconcerned with the correct answer.

4:05 p.m. - “I’m not thirsty anymore. I’m all done with hot chocolate.” I look down into my daughter’s mug. She’s consumed half of the hot chocolate, one spoonful at a time. “Can you bring the mug up to the sink please?” She brings it up while in a conversation with herself. I note that this is the first time all day any of my children have followed directions regarding clearing dishes from the table.

4:10 p.m. - My wife and our middle daughter pull up the driveway in the minivan. They come in through the back door with bubble tea and “a box of donuts!” the middle daughter yells in excitement. It’s from Donut Crazy, a specialty donut shop specializing in over-the-top dessert donuts. Our middle daughter can’t wait to recount all the places they went and the things they did on their “special date.” The two girls share stories of what they did in each other’s absence.

4:20 p.m. - Our eldest daughter comes home, walked by her friend and her friend’s mom. We vote on whether to eat the donuts now or save them for dessert tonight. The vote is unanimous. My wife opens the box.

4:35 p.m. - I remind our eldest that she has a 4:30 zoom meeting with her classmate for an extra-curricular project they’re working on. She shoves the last bite of the donut in her mouth and runs upstairs.

4:40 p.m. - I grab my laptop and settle back on the couch in the living room, but it’s short-lived. My wife tells the two younger girls they can watch a movie. Our only TV is in the living room. They run in, grab the remote, turn off the soccer five minutes from the end of the game, and turn on Netflix. To no one’s surprise, they choose a gymnastics movie. My wife mentions feeling a headache. After sixty seconds, I take my laptop to the sunroom and close the French doors behind me.

4:50 p.m. - The doors between the sunroom and the living room are closed, but I can still hear the trite and awful dialogue. I flip through a random poetry book (SKY WRI TEI NGS by Nasser Hussain, Coach House Books, 2018) on the bookshelf next to me, read through about a dozen pages, then return to my laptop and give in to the siren calls of social media and YouTube videos.

5:30 p.m. - I turn on the oven and start to make dinner. Tonight it’s fairly simple: kielbasa and vegetables, baked together on one sheet pan. When I’m in the kitchen—like when I’m driving—I like to listen to podcasts. I listen to the end of the most recent Penteract Press podcast, host Anthony Etherin’s interview with Luke Bradford for the release of his new collection, Zoolalia. I had started listening to this episode on Thursday, when I was in my car waiting to pick up two daughters from gymnastics class. I first learned of Bradford when he and I both had works published in the recent Penteract Press anthology, Myth & Metamorphosis. It turns out he and I have what I consider very similar style and tastes when it comes to experimental poetry and constraint writing. I’m excited to order his new book. Intuitively, I feel like we would get along well, but the introvert in me bristles at the thought of reaching out to someone else. Add contacting him to the long to-do list of items that have no deadlines, and therefore aren’t completed quickly.

6:00 p.m. - Yup, still takes a half hour for the oven to come to temperature. The oven probably needs some form of deep cleaning. That’s on the long to-do list also. It’s been on the list for months. The sheet pan goes in the oven.

6:20 p.m. - The podcast ends. I check the oven. Looks like I need about ten more minutes. The terrible gymnastics movie has finished but now, for some reason, the girls are watching the promo to the same movie, followed by promos for other movies they think they’re going to get to watch tonight. We generally have a no-TV-during-the-week policy, but today seems to be a special aberration; the girls have already watched more than we normally let them. They select a movie they’ve already seen at least three times already and start to play it.

6:30 p.m. - “Dinner’s ready!” Silence. “Girls?! Dinner’s ready!” Sigh. This only happens...every single night. Sometimes they are all upstairs playing on the gymnastics mat, ignoring us for as long as they can. Tonight, they’re zombies in front of their movie, and yes, it’s about a dancer. I don’t understand the attraction. All I know is the complaints I’m about to get as I grab the remote and turn off the TV: “Aw, Daddy! What are you doing?” “Heyyyy!” and “Why did you turn it off?!” I place the remote back in the basket behind the couch. “Dinner’s ready.”

6:35 p.m. - My wife added a kale salad to our dinner. Something about balancing out those donuts we had this afternoon.

7:00 p.m. - The girls actually clear their plates after dinner. Another parenting win! We let them finish the movie they started before dinner. Given that they’d only watched ten minutes, that’s basically the whole movie. I work on a new writing project, and get about 250 words in.

8:30 p.m. - Here’s where every day falls apart. The movie finishes. The TV turns off. The girls begin their sly dance, finagling and delaying and trying to eke out extra waking minutes. It’s a slog to get three girls to brush teeth and hair, go potty, get in jammies. Most nights their motivation is to earn a book. But movie nights are, by default, “no book” nights, usually because it gets so late. Tonight’s no exception. Our requests are rebuffed. Our demands are met with delays.

9:00 p.m. - The younger two are finally in bed. I feel a headache. My wife tells me her headache is worse than before.

9:15 p.m. - I yell down the stairs for the dog to come up to the eldest’s room. He sleeps at the foot of her bed. Finally we say goodnight to her.

9:20 p.m. - Back downstairs, I’m exhausted and just want to go to bed. But Saturday night means tomorrow’s Sunday and all winter long that means 9:00 a.m. ski lessons for the girls at the mountain a half hour away. So we prep their ski bags, bind the skis and put them in the minivan, and prepare lunches. Given the pandemic, the girls get fully dressed—including ski boots—at home, and we will eat snacks and lunch in the car.

9:45 p.m. - In the living room again. I squeeze in fifteen minutes of writing while my wife works on a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. We’re in the middle of watching Outlander, season four, but neither of us wants to commit to an hour of television.

10:00 p.m. - The day’s over. Upstairs to wash up and brush teeth, then a few minutes of a crossword puzzle or a bedside book until we can no longer keep our eyes open. I plug earbuds into my iPod, turn on a YouTube science channel, flip the screen upside down and eventually drift off to sleep, listening to the host explain how scientists think foxes may tap into Earth’s magnetic field to hunt mice hiding under snow.




Greg Hill is an experimental poet with an interest in writing with constraints. He has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and his work has appeared recently in Cider Press Review, Atlas and Alice, and the Penteract Press anthology Myth & Metamorphosis. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut with his family who understand he writes poetry but aren't sure if his current projects count.