writing by writers

writing by writers

Some of my favorite writers will be teaching workshops this coming October at Tomales Bay–Pam Houston, Ron Carlson, Antonya Nelson, Cheryl Strayed, Fenton Johnson, and Carl Phillips. Writing By Writers is hosting six workshops October 16-20, 2013 at the Marconi … Continue reading

the end of the storm

A week ago, I was so struck, as I came up over a hill, to actually be able to see the end of the storm–see it in the sky. At its source. Rather than notice the rain had stopped or it was getting lighter outside.

Sometimes it’s easy to see the endings of things. But sometimes you don’t know it’s the end until you look up to see the next thing has started.

One morning recently, I woke to find bare branches. And I thought, so fall is over just like that.

We’re nearing the end of another year, and I’m looking around trying to see it happening.


I’m writing from the road, I had to see,
and not just know, to see clearly
the sights and fires of a single world…
~from “To See” by Adam Zagajewski
Without End

summer reading

Summer Contrary is online with new fiction, essays, and poetry, as well as reviews of these books :

Poetry: Northerners by Seth Abramson

Essays: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer and A Journey with Two Maps by Eaven Boland

Fiction: And Yet They Were Happy by Helen Phillips, You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, and The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Here’s the beginning of my review of The Bird Sisters:

When they were teenagers, Milly hoped to marry and have children, while Twiss hoped to stand on the Continental Divide and “to be the world’s most interesting spinster.” Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel, The Bird Sisters, opens at least half a century later with Milly and Twiss living together in the house where they grew up. Perhaps, as Twiss concludes, they just didn’t want those other things enough.

To read more…

the writing life

For the last couple of months at Hunger Mountain, Claire Guyton, former Art +Life editor, and I have been working together to expand that section of the journal into The Writing Life.

Here’s what’s up and coming at

THE WRITING LIFE:

1) ANOTHER LOOSE SALLY – Hunger Mountain’s blog about writers and writing anchored by Claire Guyton (check in every Thursday!)

~june 16: The Catch / june 9: Shape is the Thing / june 3: Envisioning Concrete Pianos /may 26: New Writing Rule

2) AUTHOR VISITS  – interviews with the Hunger Mountain contributors

3) CRAFT SHORTS & ESSAYS – large and small doses of craft (online submissions for both forms now open)

~first short: On Endings: 11 Strategies by David Jauss

~May essay: Conjuring the Magic of Story by Stephanie Friedman

4) LISTS: LITERARY & LAUNDRY – coming soon – postcards from the organizational side of the writing brain

5) WRITER, INC., debuting in September, memos from the business of the writer’s life 

6) REVIEWS GONE SIDEWAYS – coming soon – anything but your mother’s reviews.

Check us out here

and

stay tuned!

then, suddenly

In 1999, my first writing workshop: Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Yes, in the Napa Valley. St. Helena. Mark Doty was there. David Lehman. Jane Hirshfield. Richard Bausch. (I always get him and his brother confused, never remembering which one it is I met. Which is terrible, given that we actually had a conversation at the picnic about Atlanta.) Elizabeth McCracken. Lynn Emanuel.

To write this post, I pulled out my file on the conference and found notes on a lecture Richard Bausch gave on the “Value of Exposition vs. Show Don’t Tell.” Which is basically what I wrote my critical essay on for VCFA in January. I didn’t know enough in 1999 to take it all in. Which was not the intended point of this post. Still, a good craft essay is worth rereading every six months or so, when we might be ready to absorb the next piece of the puzzle or when we might be struggling with some new aspect of writing.

In any event, I began this post to write about the poet Lynn Emanuel, who visited VCFA during the winter residency. I had a book of her poetry on my shelf that I had been rereading in the fall even before I knew of her visit. She had signed it, but I couldn’t remember where or when. At some point, I thought: Napa. 1999.

And yes, when I introduced myself after Lynn read on January 7, 2011, she confirmed what I just reconfirmed by pulling out my file. We were both there. In St. Helena at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference in 1999.

Her book, Then, Suddenly, is filled with poems about writing, about inhabiting the other whom we become as we write. Lovely quotes from Italo Calvino, Albert Einstein. And from Edmond Jabes:

The book is the subject of the book.

Two excerpts from Lynn’s poetry:

Far 
from The Dig and Hotel Fiesta
 
I will study her longing for far, for everything
to be more
 
must travel by eye and she (that more distant
I) will set no limits
 
 
Persona
 
from Then, Suddenly
 
… On my finger I bore the tourniquet
of  his ring, and I was happy inside my lonely 
rayon blazer when a voice said suddenly–
 
LYNN EMANUEL, IS THAT YOU IN THERE?
 
No, I said, standing there clothed in the raiment
of a dead man. No, said the voice of the dead
man limping up and down the stairs of my voice.
No, No, No, said the voice of the dead man limping
down the long dark corridor of my throat.
 
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

inch

Inch. Do you know this tiny journal? I discovered it at AWP. Small. Gray. Thin. Tiny poems. Tiny fiction. A single issue costs $1. Bull City Press publishes 4 issues a year. Ross White is the Editor, and guess what? Robin Black is the Fiction Editor. I didn’t even know that.

Winter 2011: Issue 15: Fiction this issue by Andrew Scott. Poetry by Jasmine V. Bailey and Mike Puican.

Tiny post. 

rock & sling, poetry, arroyo, ecotone

One I’d heard of before. Three I hadn’t. Some were free at AWP; some were not. In each one, I found something that made me glad I’d lugged it home–either connecting with the words of writers I didn’t know or finding new poems and stories by writers I did. Two of these journals have stunning covers that will make me incapable of putting them in the recycling bin even after I need the space for new ones. So two I will send to a friend. Two I will take to the local high school library. Here are some highlights from the four literary journals I brought home from Washington a few weeks ago:

Rock & Sling–a journal of witness. Published twice a year by Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Volume Six. Issue One. Winter 2011.

“Chalkboard” by Jeremy Clive Huggins:

I was in the 10th grade when it first registered: I will be someone else some day…Two decades later, I fail to remember that I will be someone else, not just some day, but next year, next week, next day, next anything.

“Mud Flats” by Ray Amorosi:

Clams hiss through pin holes a few feet down.

Poetry. A publication of the Poetry Foundation. Volume 197. Number 3. December 2010. The Q & A issue. Cover art by Sam Martine. “Faces (detail), 1997.

Charles Baxter on his poem “Some Instances” is asked if poetry is an escape from narration: “My answer is a respectful “No”…Like many fiction writers, I began my writing life as a poet, and what I sometimes miss in my own fiction is the high-velocity association of ideas and events and imagery that poetry makes possible.”

Jane Hirshfield on her poem “Sentencings” is asked about the image of “putting arms into woolen coat sleeves”: “I might, I suppose, have written a different poem, about my late sister’s coats. They are lovely. But I wrote this.”

Arroyo. Department of English, California State University, East Bay. Hayward, California. Volume 2. Spring 2010. Cover art by Jonathan Viner.

Dorothy Allison interviewed by Jacqueline Doyle. 15 pages.

Life goes so fast and we lose so much. We can barely even hang on to memory. But if you’ve got a story, a stunned moment story, that moment lives forever.

Ecotone–reimagining place. Department of Creative Writing and The Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. 10. The sex and death issue.”Ecotone and the University of North Carolina Wilmington are proud to print this entire issue on 100 percent postconsumer fiber paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.”

Benjamin Percy on James Salter’s “Akhnilo”:

Suspense is the engine that drags a story forward…They [my students] misunderstand suspense, believing that it hinges exclusively on plot points, rather than on human urgency.

This story is a case study on the mystery outside the character and the urgency within…the true pull of the story comes from the desire the man feels, the desire we feel alongside him…

I support literary journals. Support art–any way you can.

Crossposted at The Contrary Blog

contrary blog

The Contrary Blog–the blog of unpopular discontent–is up and running. Click over and take a look at this new voice on the internet, the brainchild of Jeff McMahon, Contrary‘s Editor. It’s a multi-author blog, anchored by David Alm. Its focus is broad–on arts and letters–rather than only on the the journal itself. And its aim is to engage with the wide scope of ideas. We welcome comments and of course disagreement.

Here are the three most recently posted articles: Why know-it-alls make bad authors, Let’s talk about Shop Class (a review of Matthew Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry Into the Value of Work), and Piko in Page–ancient Swahili lady lessons on pleasure and painA misplaced medias, a report on AWP that blends fiction and nonfiction, is one of my favorite posts. In Bad writing, defined, David Alm quotes the poet D.A. Powell, who then comments on the post. If you find an author whose writing you like, you can follow the RSS feed of that particular author.

While you peruse the site, click on the video in the upper right corner to listen to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks read five poems.

Instead of leaving a comment here, leave one over there. Go ahead. Be contrary.

i’m here to tell you an old story

I first heard of the poet Cornelius Eady on Monday, June 18, 2007, at the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown. It was the first day of a fiction workshop with Pam Houston. We were upstairs, sitting around a table, and Pam opened the workshop by reading us a poem…

I’m here/to tell you/an old story…

This is the beginning of the poem “Gratitude” by Cornelius Eady. In the section below, which comes a bit later, you can see the way Eady lays the poem on the page…

I own/ this particular story/on this particular street/At this particular moment./This appears/to be/my work./I’m 36 years old,/and all I have to do/ is repeat/ what I notice/Over/ and over,/ all I have to do/ is remember.

“Gratitude.” From the collection The Gathering of My Name. Eady is the author of eight books of poetry. His most recent, Hardheaded Weather, is a collection of new and selected poems–with a title and a cover perfectly suited to these days of snow and ice. “Gratitude” is also included in Hardheaded Weather.

Click here to listen to the poet read “I’m a Fool to Love You.”

thanksgiving

from the archives: november 27, 2008

 

Jane Hirshfield writes:

 

Having eaten the pears.

Having eaten

the black figs, the white figs.  Eaten the apples.


Table be strewn.

Table be strewn with stems,

table with peelings of grapefruit and pleasure.


Table be strewn with pleasure,

what was here to be done having finished.  img_10684

From “Spell to Be Said upon Departure”

The Lives of the Heart

out my window: 8/18/10

I'm sitting at my desk, working on revisions, and I look out the window in front of me.

It's not fall yet

but a fox

“let me catch sight of you again going over the wall
and before the garden is extinct and the woods are figures
guttering on a screen let my words find their own
places in the silence after the animals”

from “Vixen” by W. S. Merwin

You Are Not Here

cover art: "Rooms by the Sea" by Edward Hopper

David Jauss is my adviser this semester at Vermont College. During the residency, each student creates a reading list, which the adviser must approve. The books on the list may change as writing issues come up, but it’s a place to start.

Both semesters I’ve included books by my adviser on my list. This seems like an opportunity not to be missed–to read a writer’s work and have a dialogue about it.

Before I arrived at Vermont College, I knew of David Jauss mostly from his craft essays in the AWP Chronicle. I had also read a story of his. For my first packet due on Saturday, August 7th, I read some more of his work.

I started with his poetry and loved almost every one of his poems in the collection, You Are Not Here.

From “Requiem”:

“…how many times

have I paused at the crossroads, then turned right

toward home, instead of left,

toward the darkening highway that leads to that nowhere

called everywhere…”

And from “You Are Not Here”:

“each morning I ask myself

where I won’t be today

or ever.”

some saturday morning fun

A one-year subscription to Quick Fiction is $13.50.

with new pages!

#1: What’s in it for me?

#2: What’s happening?

#3: What’s in a cover?

A one-year subscription to Conjunctions is $18.00.

I’ve subscribed to One Story since 2004. Plus, I try to subscribe to 3-4 other literary journals. And I mix it up from year to year.

If we don’t subscribe to the journals where we want to see our writing, who will?

For lunch today or tomorrow, make a pb&j and spend your $ on a subscription to the journal of your choice.

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day dreams

Several years ago in a used bookstore in Columbus, Georgia, called “Beetlebinders” that now no longer exists, I found a very old book called Day Dreams.
It took me a minute to figure out that the formless white shape on the cover was a genie being released from a lamp. Reading is a lot like rubbing the lamp.
Day Dreams is an anthology of poems selected by Daphne Dale. One of my favorites (by an anonymous author) is titled “The Things in the Bottom Drawer.”

It was published in 1892. For Christmas that same year, Ralph Davis’ mother gave this book to him as a present.

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the old swing set

I was in my study on the phone wishing my father a happy day when I glanced out the window to see what my father thought, from my description, was a hawk on the roof of the old swing set, and I called to my son, home from college, who came in and took these two pictures.

“The day grew light, then dark again–
In all its rich hours, what happened?”
Jane Hirshfield, “Apple”

four poems

I have a folder where I put poems I’ve printed or been given or copied out of books. Maybe someday I’ll put them in a notebook so I’ll think to look in it more often. Three poems were mentioned in connection with the manuscripts we discussed in my March Sirenland workshop. I was not familiar with any of them. A fourth one I discovered on the same page as the third one. Here are a few lines from each:

1) “After great pain a formal feeling comes” by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow–
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.


2) “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone” by W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.


3) “A Third Body” by Robert Bly (1926-)

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not-talking.


4) “A Story About the Body” by Robert Haas (1941-)

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony,
had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost
sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her
work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used


When I was working on my novel, I would start by reading a poem or two. I think I’m going to go back to that for a while–light a candle, read a poem, get to work….

Do any of you read poetry before writing? Do you have a favorite poem you read over and over?

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from their flat, yellowed pages

A Literary Tour

In her first album in 7 years, Natalie Merchant brings 26 poems to life…

“I pulled these obscure and eccentric poems off their flat, yellowed pages…”

With her young daughter in mind and often on her lap, Merchant was inspired to show her that “speech could be the most delightful toy in her possession.” I love her description of childhood with its nod to the underside of life:

“that time when we wake up to the great wonders and small terrors of this beautiful-horrible world of ours.”

An 80-page book comes with this 2-CD collection of 26 songs (so don’t download). It’s beautiful on the outside and the inside–with copies of the poems, pictures of the poets, and odd little details Merchant discovered as she delved deeper into the worlds of these artists.

One of my all-time favorite poems, “maggie and milly and molly and may,” by E. E. Cummings is included in the collection. “Estlin, as he was called,” she writes. And then,

“In just scratching the surface of his life I found this one lost and unrequited daughter.”

A new favorite, “The Land of Nod,” by Robert Louis Stevenson, put to music with a full orchestra and on top, Merchant’s voice light as frosting, gave me goose bumps. She writes of his gift of a piano to a leper colony he visited on route to Somoa and of his “trance-inducing doomed and luminous eyes.”

“I used music to enter these poems, and once inside I was able to understand how they were constructed with layers of feeling and meaning.”

I will leave you with this March 9, 2010 interview–Natalie speaking with Granta Magazine’s deputy editor Ellah Allfrey about Leave Your Sleep:

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evidence

In honor of National Poetry Month, I finished Mary Oliver‘s Evidence, which I’ve been reading in bits and pieces since October. I enjoyed it, but I have to admit I’m not really a nature woman. Still, I loved the ending of “Swans”…

What we love, shapely and pure,
is not to be held,
but to be believed in.
And then they vanished, into the unreachable distance.

.
…and the title of this short poem…

“The Poet Always Carries a Notebook”

.…and every once in a while, I will love one of her poems. There is one of those in this book: “I Want to Write Something So Simply.” Here’s the beginning:

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it

.
Are you reading any poetry this month?