Search This Blog

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Small Words

I walk a lot. We don't have a car, but since we live in a city in Japan, this is not a problem. Consequently I walk a lot. I wear a pedometer so I know how much, and it ranges between 5 and 12 kilometers on an average day.

If I'm not walking with someone else, I listen to podcasts (so that's a lot of podcasts!), and recently I was listening to poet Elizabeth Austen's short program on KUOW. She was talking about the poet Dorothy Trogdon, who published her first book in her mid-eighties (not THE mid-eighties, HER mid-eighties). Trogdon read the poem "Desire, Like a Hungry Lion" from her collection Tall Woman Looking, and even listening while walking I was struck by the final line, "The stars need darkness or you would not know them."

What struck me immediately was that, had I had this image in mind, I would not have made the perfect word choices that Trogdon did. I'm fairly sure I would have known that to use the obvious verb "see" instead of "know" would have trivialized the image. I also think I would have known to write "The stars need darkness" instead of "You need darkness", to universalize rather than personalize the experience. What I definitely would have missed, though, is the use of "or." I suspect I would have written "The stars need darkness for you to know them," which is so inferior to what Trogdon wrote. The sense of possible loss is so much more palpable with the "or" rather than with the fait-accompli-assuming "for". Also the "or" allows the negative "not" in there, which strikes the reader (or listener) with such force. Not to mention how much better the rhythm is in Trogdon's masterful line. Small words make such big difference. And I have so much to learn.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Black and White and Read All Over

Want to feel more connected to people all over the world? Take a look at Steve McCurry's blog showing people from diverse countries doing what (I can only guess given the content of this blog) is one of your favorite pasttimes: reading.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Online Lit Journals Reviewed

Did you know that NewPages review online literary journals? Reading their reviews is a good way to become familiar with online journals you haven't even heard of yet, and to be reminded of ones you've enjoyed in the past.

Visual Poetry

So what do you think of the visual poetry of Andrea Baker over at OmniVerse, the blog of Omnidawn? The artwork is made from packing tape and cutouts (or perhaps cutouts of packing tape?) and are from a forthcoming book, The True Adventures of Me. The effective use of line in the cutouts is impressive, the use of words on these examples pages are minimal, and so I'm curious about calling it poetry. But I'm interested in seeing more and thinking it through.

(Shamelessly stole this information from the NewPages Blog, by the way.)


Poet Zachary Schomburg was interviewed this week on J P Dancing Bear's weekly poetry radio show, Outofourmind's Posterous on KKUP, which you can listen to right there at the website and which can also be found at iTunes.

One topic they discussed was Schomburg's many collaborations with other poets and the processes which they use to work together (it differs case by case, as it happens). Schomburg mentioned  poet Heather Christle who had told him that her process (when working alone) feels like "self-collaboration," in that she writes a single word, stops, looks around, and then comes back to the poem with a open mind, hoping to write the next word and surprise herself with it. This is the process of deliberately abandoning whatever phrase you were headed toward and trying to come up with something entirely new, word by word. Doesn't it sound like a way to be fascinated by your own process, hanging onto each new word as it comes to you fresh and not as a packaged image?

I had been thinking lately of the pleasure I get out of poems that surprise me, how that seems to be to me one of the hallmarks of the very best poems, so I am interested in trying out this process for myself. I get a rush of joy the times when I do surprise myself while writing, and hope this will increase those moments for me first, and then later (hopefully) for the reader.

You can find the discussion of collaborations at about 38 minutes into the interview, give or take a bit.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Advice from Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this letter of advice to a young family friend after reading her short story. Flavorwire, which ran this letter today, entitled it "You've got to sell your heart."

Dictionary Fun Online

I just took the Oxford Dictionaries' interactive etymology quiz. See how well you do...but you can only take it once because it's the same set of questions.

You can also answer a few questions and find out which classical character you are (I'm Medea).

You can try out a real Turing test (and if you don't know what that means, this site will explain it first.) This one really excited me; I've long wanted to try a Turing test and see if I could tell the diff. But it wasn't all that interesting in practice. Sigh.

There are a bunch more interactive quizzes, featuring Jane Austen's work, Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. See them all here.

Invisible Remix

I've never read anything by Chuck Palahniuk, but after hearing him explain his process at the KQED Writers' Block podcast, I'm going to!

Palahniuk begins his narrative with his childhood love of the Sears catalog (a passion I shared) and shows how that ultimately lead him to organize his novel Invisible Monsters Remix in a wildly original way. The first edition was reordered to the traditional "And next..." order for selling purposes, but his new edition restores the zany (dis)organization of the original manuscript.

Has anybody read this? Now I'm dying to!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Beauty for Kids

Flavorwire's 20 Most Beautiful Children's Books Ever (including one written by poet Ted Kooser & illustrated by Jon Klassen). What's your favorite children's book, and is it because it's beautiful?

Triggermoon Triggers Me

I've been struggling with the ending of a poem I want to include in my new manuscript. It was published in a journal a year or two ago, and when the journal editor accepted it, she suggested I lop off the last two lines before publication. I thought about it long and hard, and then did it, because I don't get a lot of feedback here in Japan and wish that I did, since writing groups have been so helpful to me in the past. Plus I liked the editor's work (chasing down her poems on the internet had led me to this particular journal in the first place) so I trusted her opinion.

But I wasn't all that happy with the truncated ending and wanted to change it before putting it in the manuscript. With some time and distance from the poem, I could agree that the ending I had had was weak, and that the line the editor had asked me to end on was stronger. But now my stanzas were of uneven length (which isn't always important but in this poem I feel it is) and the ending was abrupt, so I wanted to add a little more and fix those problems.

I've been struggling with this for about two weeks. Nothing I tried worked. I thought of advice that has helped me in the past, "When you are stuck, say the opposite of what you had been saying, and see what happens." But this was not a case of there being an opposite. Still, I knew I wanted to say something completely new and yet still connected to the topic of the poem, and still in the same voice. There are themes in my manuscript that aren't yet in the poem, so I tried to weave them into an ending consistent with where the poem was going, but no, it didn't work.

All week I wrote in lines and scratched them out. Nothing was right. Then yesterday, after struggling for an hour or so, I decided to give up for the day, and instead read some poetry. I picked up Julia Cohen's Triggermoon, Triggermoon (this is one of the books I got when I splurged on Black Lawrence books). Cohen is one of those poets who strings together surreal images in lines that have huge leaps between them (think Elizabeth Willis). I was marvelling at her ability to jump between images and (seemingly) topics and still have a coherent tone; this was the kind of thing I needed to do but couldn't. And then, after reading just three poems, my mind threw at me an image for the ending of my own poem, one that echoed another poem in the manuscript, but which would be completely fresh and different in the poem I was toiling over. And yet consistent with that poem.

The image had nothing to do with anything I had read in Triggermoon, Triggermoon, but I have no doubt that reading those free-associating lines was what loosened up my own creativity. This will be a book I'll return to when I'm stuck in the same way again.

Friday, July 13, 2012

LitMap of the US

A literary map by designers Geoff Sawers and Bridget Hannigan, for sale at The Literary Gift Company. (I saw this on Molly Fisk's Facebook feed. Hat tip!) Go to the site for close-ups if you want to see whose name is where.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Little Bits of Bluets

I am reading Maggie Nelson's Bluets and I am astonished. Here are a few of the excerpts about writing (which is only one of the themes of this gorgeous book).

183. Goethe also worries over the destructive effects of writing. In particuar, he worries over how to "keep the essential quality [of the thing] still living before us, and not to kill it with the word." I must admit, I no longer worry much about such things. For better or worse, I do not think that writing changes things very much, if at all. For the most part, I think it leaves everything as it is. What does your poetry do?--I guess it gives a kind of blue rinse to the language (John Ashbery).

184. Writing is, in fact, an astonishing equalizer. I could have written half of these propositions drunk or high, for instance, and half sober; I could have written half in agnoinzed tears, and half in a state of clinical detachment. But now that they have been shuffled around countless times--now that they have been made to appear, at long last, running forward as one river--how could either of us tell the difference?

185. Perhaps this is why writing all day, even when the work feels arduous, never feels to me like "a hard day's work." Often if feels more like balancing two sides of an equation--occasionally quite satisyfing, but essentially a hard and passing rain. It, too, kills the time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You're Such a Character

If you want your name to be used as a character in the next Margaret Atwood novel, head on over to Wattpad. Wattpad is a site for posting your writing and getting feedback. They have an agreement with Atwood that anyone who enters their upcoming poetry contest will be entered in a drawing to become a character in Atwood's third novel in her dystopian trilogy. Or you could buy the right to be a character (or technically donate to earn the right), for $10,000. Your choice.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Contemporary Japanese Fiction Online

Are you looking for some contemporary Japanese fiction to read in translation? Then you are in luck. Thanks to my friend Deborah I., I've learned about a journal of international writing called Words Without Borders, which is doing a special double issue called New Writing From Japan. I haven't read it yet, but here's a blog post about it on a site called One Chapter Reading Club, which features free e-reading and is curated in part by my friend Deborah I. (If you can read Japanese, you can find out her full name at this site! But don't panic if you don't; most posts have both English and Japanese. Deborah's a crackerjack translator.)


Jessica's Theory of Endings

Some years ago I came up with the theory that poems should end with a bang, but fiction should end with a whimper. Recently I have thought that maybe if you (by which I mean I) want something to end with a bang, you (meaning I again) should be writing comic books. That's all.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mary Ruefle Remembers

Poetry Magazine has generously put not only their archives online, but also their most current issue. From the July/August 2012 issue, read this intricately detailed essay by Mary Ruefle called "I Remember, I Remember."

Monday, July 2, 2012

From Poetry to Prose and Back

I have this poem that I've been thinking about for inclusion in my manuscript. It's been published in a journal, I like its imagery a lot, but I've always felt that it didn't have the power behind that it had the potential to convey.

So last week I pruned it and pruned it, clearing out any words that could be abandoned  (something I really should have done before its prior publication--oops!). It was better, but still didn't have the effect that I knew the images in the poem could have.

So then I noticed that, unlike most of the poems I write, the line breaks didn't particularly contribute to the poem's impact. So I had a bright idea: I'll make it prose, a prose poem. I'll get rid of these line breaks that seem to be so superfluous anyway. And I liked it. I felt it was a big improvement. I put it away to have a look at it later with fresh eyes.

And when I did return to it, guess what? I didn't think it had the power I was looking for. I read through it, saw that it was better than the lineated version, but still not right. I put it away again.

Then by chance I happened to be reading Jeffrey Skinner's The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets, and I stumbled across this (on pg. 103):

"If you've done this work and the rhythm remains elusive it may mean that what you're struggling with wants to be prose--a prose poem, or "creative nonfiction" perhaps; or something between poetry and prose. Do you instantly see places where you want to cut, or write more? Often this is the case--the prose version suggests fresh paths of revision. Go ahead and do those revisions."

Yes, yes! I thought. I've done this--recognized that this poem doesn't want to be a poem, but wants to be prose. I've revised where prose suggested revisions necessary, and yet.....

Skinner's advice continues (still on pg. 103):

"Does the whole now feel more comfortable with the sound of the sentence than rhythm of the line? If so, maybe you've got yourself a prose poem. But if these operations don't lead to a new, more confident understanding of what the pome wants to be, put it away, and move. You can always come back to it later."

So I thought about that. There was still some rhythm in the prose poem, some sentences crying out to be the end of paragraphs, which I didn't want to do because I wanted a block prose poem, not one broken into paragraphs. Or wait.....maybe those were the ends of lines calling out to be recognized and so truncated? Maybe this wanted to be a poem after all, but one with much longer lines, so that the few lines that were aching to break themselves could do it with (yes) power and effect.

So I relineated the poem into long long lines (for me), included a few stanza breaks that hadn't been there in the first place (where I saw paragraphs forming in the prose version), and Shazam! ladies and gentlemen, we have the poem we were trying to find all along.

A long and circuitous route to getting here, but here we are now: a finished poem.