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Sunday, September 30, 2012


The nature writer Terry Tempest Williams wrote "Dying doesn't cause suffering. Resistance to dying does." Another way to say it is "Pain in inevitable. Suffering is optional.," which comes from Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

I was reminded of these quotes the other day when a colleague was talking about her new way of handling jet lag. Instead of returning to Japan at the last minute and pushing through the jet lag, with discomfort and suffering, she decided to return to Japan a week earlier than her responsibilities began, and to experience jet lag by sleeping when she was tired, and waking when she was awake. This time, she enjoyed her jet lag and simply let it be. Jet lag doesn't cause suffering; resistance to jet lag does. (Obviously no children were involved in this experience, and more particularly no children with jet lag, but even if there were, what could be done to reduce everyone's resistance?)

Obviously there are things that require resistance: evil, manipulation, unfairness. But I for one waste a lot of energy resisting what is and what cannot be changed. If I need good weather for an event and get a typhoon, instead of hunkering down and enjoying the quiet day of being stranded in a typhoon, I tend to struggle against the rearrangement of my plans. When an extremely difficult relative calls or visits (or I even hear her name mentioned), I immediately begin to resist without even hearing what she wants, from long practice of suffering through her unreasonable demands, constant complaints, and general meanness. But I don't have to do that. I know she has her way of looking at the world, and I can let her have it without letting it affect me. I don't have to suffer just because she has decided to.

I was wondering about resistance in my writing. I sometimes resist sitting down to write, finding all kinds of chores to do instead, and meanwhile I suffer thinking about how I should be writing and am not. Instead of resisting writing, I can merely sit down with my notebook and wait. I also tend to suffer through fallow periods in my writing, when I try to write and nothing comes at all, or nothing of use, even though I know that fallow times are almost always followed by extremely productive periods in which problems that had been plaguing me in certain projects or in writing in general are resolved. So instead of resisting fallow times, I can just accept them, sit with my notebook, and know that my subconscious is doing important work.

It's a good reminder for me (again) to notice when I feel resistance and to see if it is really necessary, and to notice when I am suffering and try to identify what (if anything, and more particularly if anything worthy of such a struggle) that I am resisting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Characteristics of an Exceptional Writer

Marianne Kunkel, managing editor of Prairie Schooner, is interviewed over at the LitBridge blog about "Characteristics of an Exceptional Writer." Guess what's (explicitly) not on the list? Perfection. Guess what is? Risk-taking and surprise. Am I surprised? I am not: a few weeks (months?) ago I said that the poems I valued most surprised me and that I was going to try and put more surprises in my poems. Am I now even more challenged to do this? I am.

Other admirable traits mentions: nerve, humor, and imagination. Read the whole (brief and worth-your-while) interview.

(More articles at LitBridge here, including "How to Receive Criticism" by Traci Brimhall, "How to Put Together a Book Tour" by Keith Montesano, "How to Write Collaborative Poetry" by Wendy Xu and Nick Sturm, "Quick Tips for Publishing Flash Fiction" by Glenn Shaheen, "How to Balance A Full-Time Job and Being a Writer" by Nina Corwin, "Being a Reading Series Coordinator" by Vladislav Frederick, and so many more practical topics.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Music for the Masters

Recently I've been listening to the Writers at Cornell podcast series (also available for free download from iTunes), and I heard this interview with composer Joseph Klein, who put the 2nd year MFA poetry students' work to music last year. He explains which elements from the poems he used to guide his compositional decisions, and he discusses instrumentation and the use of electronics in his work. It's an interesting look at the collaboration from the musician's side. There are samples available as part of the interview. Enjoy!

(There are lots of other interviews with poets available at the same website, including Claudia Emerson, Carl Phillips, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Mark Doty, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Heather McHugh, and more. And fiction writers too!)

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Room of Her Own

A Room of Her Own Foundation, a non-profit supporting women in the arts and the sponsor of the $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award, is asking  creative women/women artists to respond to its questionnaire about issues facing creative women. They ask some provocative questions, so consider helping them determine what women artists experience and what they need. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete, and can be reached at the link above.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Day, Another....Day

Here's what poet Charles Bernstein wrote about Stephen Ratcliffe's new book Selected Days, over at the Jacket2 blog:

The ordinariness of the uncanny in the paratactician's dream: Attention, drift, perception, modulation, citation, repetition, speculation, description, reflection, observation, insinuation. In Stephen Ratcliffe's Selected Days, each day is much like the next. The difference is poetry.

Each is much like the next. The difference is poetry.


With a Little Help From My Friends

I just emailed two of my sisters asking them about their work as potters, so I could make sure I was getting a metaphor straight.

I love asking my friends and family for help with details I need for my poems. Once I wanted to write about water, about how water sounds so different in its myriad of forms. I wanted one stanza for rain, one for a stream, one for a river, one for the ocean. I emailed everyone I knew and asked them to write out in letters the sound of rain, the sound of a stream, and so on (not words, but letters, the transcription of rain for instance). Then I tallied up the letters that got used the most to describe each kind of water, and in each stanza I focused on using words that employed those letters heavily to capture the sound of that form of water.

Recently I use Facebook a lot to ask my friends if they are familiar with certain words that I think might be too obscure, or to ask what the word is for an item I can describe but have no name for, or I ask their advice on grammatical matters. I could use databases from corpus linguistics (databases of words collected from thousands of sources of actual usage in print) to ferret out some of these items (I learned about this as part of my studies in applied linguistics), but it's more fun to see what other people in my life and from my past have to say. Do they remember a certain fad from our childhood era? Do they know what a one-armed bandit is? Would they say "the secret to baking" or "the secret of baking"?

Connecting with family and friends over these minutiae, which are momentarily extremely important to me while I am building a poem, makes me feel less alone in my mind as it bangs about trying to get everything right. And it's gratifying how generous people are with their time, their opinions, their expertise. Thanks to everyone who's helped me with my random questions, who will help me with the ones I have yet to dream up.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Message from (the) Boss

Today poet Todd Boss posted a picture of the 12 rejection notices he has received in the past from Poetry Magazine. He received these 12 before any of his poem were accepted, and today he was celebrating his 15th poem to be in Poetry. His point was that we should never stop trying.

Looking at Boss's status update, I wondered how long it had been since I had even sent out a submission to a journal. I've been worrying about my poor newly homeless manuscript since this spring when its publisher folded, and I haven't been doing anything about submitting new work. In fact, when I checked my records, it had been 9 months since I submitted anything. Sheesh, I could have made a baby in all that time!

So this morning, despite the fact that I need to take the final two online exams of my semester, I put together a packet and submitted it to five journals. And I have an idea for a second packet, but I'm going to finish my exams first, and do that next week (or October 1st, since apparently a few journals I'm interested in don't open till then). Anyway, thanks to Todd Boss, I'm back in the game.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Notebooks by the Month

Today I was listening to an interview with Robert Hass, at the Writers at Cornell website. Hass described the month-based notebooks that he's been keeping for the past 3 years or so. Each month he writes in a specified notebook, and then at the end of the month, he puts it away and gets out the notebook for the next month. Hass explained that he was currently (at the time of the interview) writing in the September notebook for the third year in a row, and that when October rolled around, he would put that one away and get out the October notebook.

I am  always interested in writing notebooks, and find this idea intriguing. There are so many ways to introduce constraints and rituals to stimulate creativity.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cage's Rules

This was posted on Facbook by someone I don't know, so I won't reference him here, but he worked with Merce Cunningham in the 90s and these were the rules, though as you will see they were originally written by John Cage. Although they were intended for students and teachers, who of us isn't one or both of those at any given time? Enjoy.

Submit to Indiana

Indiana Review's non-fiction submission "guidelines"  (by editor Justin Wolfe) are like none you've ever seen:

They begin, "Every representation is a failure in its own way." And get more obscure from there. And yet not. A favorite line of mine is "To reduce eye strain when using a computer for long periods of time, stare out a window at the most distant object possible."  Or "Most bronze statues are hollow."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Reading in Perspective

Stanford researchers find that reading (specifically Jane Austen) is exercise for the brain. READ about it here!

Thanks to Chris O. for the link to the article, and Stephanie B. for the cartoon.


The Best Word Ever!

The Atlantic Monthly has interviewed blogger Ted McCagg about his system for deciding "the best word ever" which (spoiler alert) he deems to be "diphthong." It's a good word, and I'd agree it's the best among his top eight, but I'm not in agreement about his top eight.

On the other hand, I'm am intrigued with system of deciding on these words: brackets a la March Madness. First he made brackets for words beginning with each of the 26 letters, and eventually he worked his way down to the winner.

I love the systematic way he's done it (though don't necessarily think it's the best way, though it's admirably organized), but still can't suss out his criteria for choosing between words (but do accept that there isn't always a rational defense for such choices).

Anyway, what are your favorite words?????? Please reply, readers, I am seriously interested.

On and On Go the Videos

Here's a site that pairs poems with videos. It's called ONandOnScreen, and it's different from other online poetry/video projects in that the videos don't incorporate readings of the poems, but coexist alongside them. So far they've attracted work by poets such as Sawako Nakayasu, Matt Hart, Jena Osman, Elaine Equi, Matthew Zapruder, Noelle Kocot, etc.

Here's one by Christina Davis that I particularly like.

They accept submissions in November and December.

Thanks to Leah S. for making me aware of this site.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Not Writing, Revisited

Dawn Potter's essay, "Not Writing the Poem," which first appeared in winter 2012 edition of the Sewanee Review, is now available at her blog.

Here's a few lines from her concluding paragraph: "Which brings me back to Thoreau. If “the art . . . of a poet’s life, is, not having anything to do,” then I think that perhaps we, as writers, need to negotiate better terms with nothing."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Geometry Daily

Okay, I admit it: geometry soothes me. So I'm pleased to have just found the site Geometry Daily, where German artist Tilman posts an original geometrical design daily. You can sign up to receive them daily via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. if they soothe you too.

It's good to have small pleasures. What are yours?

#212 Too many doors – A new minimal geometric composition each day
"Too Many Doors," from Tilman's archives, July 30, 2012

Some of my other favorites are February 28th, March 2nd, July 14th, August 6th, and August 17th. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Fractals

I would love to post a link to fractals every Friday, but I'm not that organized. In fact, I'm not even organized enough to post every Friday. But this Friday (in Japan it's Friday already), here are fractals via satellite imaging:

from Paul Bourke, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia.

A Friday Giggle

Thanks to my friend Midge for passing this one along. Happy Friday (in Japan anyway!)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Minding your Mind

So I heard this novelist say (and I wish I could cite the novelist, but I can't) that if you have an hour a week to write, it is better to write for 10 minutes 6 days a week than to write for an hour on Saturday. His reasoning (and I do remember that it was a male) was that if you think about your characters every day, you carry them around with you when you are jogging, when you are running errands, and you think about them and develop them even when you aren't writing.

This reminded me of some advice given by the poet & novelist Julianna Baggott (which I've mentioned before) that it is useful to read your work right before you go to bed, so that you might dream some of the answers to your problems, so that you can put your unconscious mind to work on your writing.

So the other night I was working on a poem in which I had an image that I had just worked to death. Rather than simply using the image, I had made an extended metaphor out of it and just worked the magic entirely out of it, and I was wondering what to do. I wanted to cut everything but the image, and leave the leap for the reader to make, but then I had a few empty lines (in a poem with regular stanza lengths otherwise) and I went to sleep thinking about this. At four AM I awoke with two new images to put in the poem, exactly what I needed, and an interesting new perspective in addition.

Yay for the unconscious mind! Yay for the conscious mind! May their collaboration continue!

WCW's Business Card

And since we are doing poet memorabilia today, from the Boston Review's Poetry Matters e-newsletter, this link to  William Carlos Williams' business card. Enjoy!

Emily's New Look

The UK Guardian reports a rare find: a new photo of Emily Dickinson, showing the poet in her 20s, as a contrast to the daguerreotype of her in her teens that we are all used to seeing. That's the claim anyway. After having submitted the newly located image to various tests (which you can read about at the article), experts are pretty sure it's Emily. What do you think?

Emily Dickinson

New photo: Supposedly Emily on the left, with friend Kate Scott Turner.

Photo: A new photo reportedly shows Emily Dickinson in her mid-twenties (rather than the teenage daguerreotype we commonly know her from). What do you think about the likeness?

New Emily, Old Emily. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kartsonis Online

A poet I am particularly entranced with, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis, is featured in the Thrush September edition online. Thrush is a new online journal that I couldn't be more enthusiastic about. So go!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Broadside Bonanza

Thrush Press is now accepting submissions for their broadside series. Check out their  beautiful work featuring geometric designs, gears, birds, feathers and leaves, all some of my favorite motifs, and then consider submitting your own poems.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Writing & Exercise

So the title of this isn't "Writing Exercises," which is a topic I've thought a lot about, but "Writing & Exercise," which is a topic I haven't.

I've long been aware that many writers are also runners, and I've thought that was due to the tendency of both activities to attract the obsessive types, or that perhaps the dual interests might have come from a desire of the writer to correct her tendency to spend so much time in her mind. Many writers who run recount writing in the morning and then running later in the day, for instance. And of course there are the yoga-writers, whom I also assumed were also rebalancing themselves from a life spent too much in the mind.

And there's John Irving, who famously is a wrestler. I could probably name more writer-athletes if I put my mind to it, and if you've got others please post them in the comments section.

So this week I was listening to a podcast interview of Lidia Yuknavitch by Brad Listi on the podcast Other People, and I learned that Yuknavitch had been a competitive swimmer since childhood and that she still swims as part of her writing process. This last bit is what caught my attention: as part of her writing process, not in reaction to it. Yuknavitch says that she tries to write from her body, a visceral kind of writing (I think that's what she said, visceral, but I don't have time to go back and find the exact quote in the podcast), and in order to do that she swims hard until she works out all that is in her head and can come to her writing with her mind emptied out through her vigorous exercise. So that she can write from her body and not from her mind.

This is not something I had ever thought about before. But it sounds very appealing. And I wonder about how other writers use exercise, and if I should reconsider my approach to it (which is unenthusiastic but thorough, so that I do get moderate daily exercise but don't as often get a good workout since I injured my foot three months ago. Should I be pursuing more strenuous exercise, and before I write in particular? Something to try, once the foot is completely healed....)

More of Madness, Rack, and Honey

KCRW's Michael Silverblatt interviews Mary Ruefle about her new book of essays, Madness, Rack, and Honey (new from Wave Books), on the radio program Bookworm.

Ruefle says such things as "Every poem moves forward by getting lost and then finding itself, and then getting lost and then finding itself." And "I never have anything to say when I begin a poem. When I begin a poem I have nothing to say and I think the poem is my way of saying, 'I have nothing to say. Give me a moment and I'll talk forever.' (laughter) That's my experience of writing."