Thursday, June 23, 2022

Paul Hlava Ceballos : My Writing Day


          To speak about my writing day, I have to speak about the circumstances in which my writing day exists, a “day” which is mere hours eked out between examining patients in the cardiology clinic, grocery shopping, and simmering a pot of lentils for the week while washing the bath towels. I cannot think of poetry when I am folding laundry because I am worrying about my debts, and I cannot think of poetry when I am commuting to work because I am preparing myself for when a coworker uses that particular coded word for a group of people again—my people—and how can I respond in a way that does not inflame him into making the office less bearable, and if I am the only person who ever responds and thus inflames him, should I not just remain silent to better disappear into my workplace?

          I say this to make clear how art—in particular the lyrical form of communication I have devoted my life to—exists in the cracks of or, more precisely, in conflict with a capitalist system, a system that requires our time in the form of labor in order to produce profit for those who do not labor. Such labor includes emotional labor and often borders physical harm, as with the slow degradation of elbows to arthritis and wrists to carpal tunnel. Healthcare, at the level of the boardroom, does not exist outside of this system. Poetry also exists within this system of capital, although what does not fit into it is poetry’s slow process, the anti-grammatical observation of time passing and one’s place within that movement.

          I pour three shots of espresso from the stovetop’s cafetera. I read from one of the three books that I am partway through, placed on different tables in the apartment. I know I must return to work tomorrow but I also know that creativity requires wasted time, by which I mean time that does not produce money. My best moments of writing are long, silent walks through my neighborhood during which I might crouch low and try to distinguish different mosses and lichens growing through cracks in the stone path while I listen to wind rushing in trees, crow calls and passing cars so that I can locate myself within this environment. Once I have located myself, I spend a certain time in stillness until I can begin to formulate words into a pattern, which may sometimes be in the form of a subject and predicate or sometimes a feeling lacking syntax.

          To continue writing requires some justification of why. If I find myself located within lichens, trees, crow calls and people traveling somewhere important to them, my words only have as much value as understanding themselves to be a part of that living network. I don’t know what truth is unless it is my relationship to my environment nor do I know what beauty is unless it is the beauty of revolution. Can I use my voice to harmonize with my natural world or disrupt what may cause it harm?

          It is two weeks later now. The first half of this essay was written during a partial sick day, which was the first time in a long time that I had the opportunity to sit down and write. Every day since that sick day, I came home from work and saw the words “FINISH ESSAY” written on the chalkboard in my kitchen and thought, “maybe this weekend.” After a weekend of being on call, a week of catching up on chores, and a weekend of feeling the wild, free, sleep-deprived chaos of rare free-time, I am sitting on my living room sofa, which is my home office, so that I can finish my thought about my writing day. What was my thought?

          Finishing a poem may take months or years. Why does it take so long? One reason may be that the labor our current economic system requires of us and the labor required to survive the white supremacy of that system in part exist to disrupt time, which is our freedom of thought. Suppressing free thought is necessary for those of us caught within these systems to allow them to continue. So, I repeat the process of silence, locating myself in the natural world, and stillness leading to language. With enough time in between editing each piece of writing I can return to it after forgetting it and see it as new. Eventually, I can complete a piece of writing that understands myself in connection to my environment. Once it is shared with friends and edited sufficiently, I may submit it to journals for publication or prizes that would give me some small, art-world feelings of importance. While I enjoy the brief feeling of visibility that comes with publication, that feeling is not the poetry that gives me meaning, nor does it connect me to the network of lichens, trees, crows and people that I locate myself in. My truest writing day may not be a work period nor even planetary rotation, but a lyrical unit. The poetry I strive for creates time.




Paul Hlava Ceballos is the author of banana [ ], winner of the 2021 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, chosen by Ilya Kaminsky, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

His collaborative chapbook, Banana [ ] / we pilot the blood (3rd Thing Press, 2021), shares pages with Quenton Baker, Dr. Christina Sharpe, and Torkwase Dyson.

He has received fellowships from CantoMundo, Artist Trust, and the Poets House. His work has been published in POETRY, Pleiades, Triquarterly, Poetry Northwest, BOMB, and Narrative Magazine, among other journals and newspapers.

He currently lives in Seattle, where he practices echocardiography.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Farah Ghafoor: My Writing Day (June 3rd)


5:00am, I wake up to pray. At the first alarm, for once! Afterwards, I fall asleep immediately.

7:00am, I wake up, turn my head to see light sieved through the curtains as if they’re not even there. Readjust my sleeping mask and shut my eyes.

8:05am, I wake up. Maybe I’ll go back to sleep, I think, motionless. I give up. I check my texts, Discord, emails, etc. I overthink my life and all of my relationships. I check Instagram, watch reels I’ll instantly forget about. I deleted TikTok so long ago just to waste more and more time on Instagram. Genius at work, I’m telling you. Every now and then I delete the app off my phone, but it comes with the cost of not being able to message someone back immediately, with or without notifications on. I weigh the pros and cons again but think about posting on my story at some point this weekend. I’m going to a chapbook launch, after all.

8:30am, A miracle occurs, and I’ve gotten out of bed. I should’ve slept earlier last night, though 12:30am truly isn’t that bad. I play my June playlist as I brush my teeth, wash my face, etc. I haven’t gone through my songs on Spotify to find stuff that feels fresh, so the playlist only has five songs. I consider whether there’s a theme to the five songs, but I’m reaching. My Small Press Writing Day reminds me of the similar website I loved to read back in high school when I was curious about the media world. Enormous Eye was run by Amy Rose Spiegel and it’s still up, though it’s been inactive since 2018. The writers wrote with such detail and frankness, I remember one clearly depressed writer who even wrote about the objectively gross parts. But anyways, I think about how I was asked to write this post literally last year but the circumstances never seemed right or average, so I put it off until now – sorry Rob!

8:50am, Breakfast (fried egg, apple) while I listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls on Libby and think about going to New York to find myself as one does in a such foreign country. These timestamps are rounded by the way, for obvious reasons. I regret buying green apples this week, but like, they were on sale.

9:10am, I sit down at my laptop to check Twitter because having the app on my phone would likely destroy my psyche. Things are terrible, and as usual, getting worse! There are some good poems though that I bookmark to read later.

9:25am: I look up Enormous Eye and read a few entries. I miss it – that level of detail into another writer’s life. I discovered this interest first when I read Sylvia's Plath's journals in high school. They were so impressively poetic that I had wondered why she was wasting material. And nobody's ever so honest as they are in their own journal, though ethically there are some problems there. I get a notification – I need to water my begonia, which I know is dying because it needs repotting. It seems like such a hassle but I add a terracotta pot to my grocery list anyways. I don’t water the plant, but I'll probably get another notification reminding me later when I’m feeling more generous.

9:30am, I check my agenda, even though I already know what’s on it. I recently started using my Notes app for this purpose because there are so few apps that are extremely easy to use both on mobile and desktop. I accept a Facebook invite to a poetry reading next week even though I have class at the same time and there will likely be an assignment to hand in at the beginning of it. But who knows what could happen next week? The world could end and class might get cancelled. I get started on coursework – poetry, audit, tax, etc. I’ve already done most of it for this week so I don’t have much to do. At some point I get up and make some chai, clear my desk a bit, and take pictures for one to accompany this post. Sensational.

12:00pm, I get changed into some workout clothes and massage coconut oil into my hair before pulling on my hijab. Efficiency! At the gym, I spend most of my time on the treadmill because I’m trying to get back into running, listening to the same audiobook as I sweat.

1:30pm, I return, shower, have lunch. I don’t jot down what I ate, and as I edit this I still don’t remember. I check my socials.

2:30pm, I’ve decided to go thrifting instead of going to Walmart for non-urgent items as I originally planned. I’ve been itching to go for literally two months so I think it’s okay. The begonia will continue dying but so will I if I don’t go. I think about that one poem from Diane Seuss’ frank: sonnets and edit it in my head: I’m a star said the thrift store. A star said the hotdog I’m planning to buy. I forgot that this post is also an investigation into what I do all day because recently I really do not know. I pray and get dressed.

4:00pm, I leave and bring Richard Hugo’s Triggering Town to read on the bus but can’t focus. I’m so affected by this monologue about why the MC from City of Girls wasn’t an interesting person after she betrayed someone important to her. What if I’m just as uninteresting and if so why was I writing this post about my day! I realized then that I had left home at the perfect time: rush hour.

7:30pm, I’m back with my excellent finds, including a silk wrap skirt and lightweight Zara pants. Couldn’t read on the way back because my hands were full. I take pictures of my outfit because some kid there called me pretty. My faith in humanity is renewed. The trip took way longer than expected, so perhaps my investigation hasn’t been successful. Let’s see if I get to writing today.

8:00pm, Dinner, because I didn’t end up getting a hotdog. I don’t usually don't eat this late but what can you do.

8:30pm, Chores, a bit more thorough because my sister is visiting this weekend. Continued listening to the audiobook. I wash my finds to try on and send pictures of my success to my friends, then water the begonia. I have to say, that really is an ugly name for a plant. So heavy, and with the word ‘beg’ in it, I don’t even like typing it out.

9:50pm, I make some tea and sit down at my laptop, answer some emails, complete some more coursework.

11:10pm, I stare into space and at my phone and feel anxious about various things.

11:30pm, I help my parents plan a trip for later this year. This is stressing me out and I think partially has caused much of my flailing over the last month.

12:05am, I open up the final edits sent from the editors at Seventh Wave. Somehow writing is the last thing I do every weekday. I reheat my tea, thinking that I'm so good at going to bed early. I read over the draft again. I'm trying to map out the poem for the nth time to make sure it says exactly what I want it to say since the ideas I’m exploring this time are more complex than usual. It doesn't help that I’m in an ebb stage of my writing, or burn out, or writer’s block, or procrastination. It's difficult.

12:30am, I read poems on Twitter to get my brain moving. I should really be submitting to more magazines, I’ve got so many poems just sitting there in my Google Drive. I don't need to finish edits tonight but I won't have much time this weekend.

12:50am, My brain is still stagnant! I've made flow and grammar edits, but haven't re-evaluated the final stanza. Guess I’ll try to do that tomorrow. Again. I've worked so hard at writer’s block or whatever this is, but it feels impossible each time. I was so full of literature a while ago, so instinctually curious about the world when I was reading and writing everyday. I feel like I’m drifting away from myself. I could write a semi-decent poem but not revise it. I’ve been like this since February.

1:00am, I love to give up. I play last month’s playlist as I brush my teeth, delicately maim my aloe vera plant Jester to put it on my skin, and get ready for bed. I wish I could say that I didn’t check my phone again before going to sleep, but I did. Maybe I should write comedy.





Seventh Wave resident Farah Ghafoor's poems are published in Cream City Review, Room, Ninth Letter, Hobart and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets and Best of the Net, and is taught at Iowa State University. Born in New York, she was raised in New Brunswick and Ontario, and studies accounting as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto.