Tag Archives: writing

Two Week Sonnet, Day 6

Riding the line between abundance and chaos,
My stupid focus is on lack, lack, lack.
I try gratitude, but follow the switchback
Back toward loud whiny-assedness:
Too much. Too much! There really ought to be less
Except of course when there needs to be much more.
_____
12/8/12
Decisions, decisions. Today we reach the end of a sestet–a little six-line cluster. If we’re going traditional Petrarchan, we’ll push on for a couple more lines to complete the octave (8 lines, if you didn’t know) and THEN shift gears. The rhymes seem to indicate I’m in an octave, not a sestet. I was kind of mis-remembering, forgetting I’d set up “whiny-assedness” to rhyme with “abundance and chaos,” only remembering that “less” rhymed with “ness.” I thought briefly about trying to rhyme with “less” so this could decide to be a sestet.

I’m a little worried that the two less/more lines are too obvious, but I like having them as end words there in the early-middle of the poem.

Well, really, it’s tomorrow’s decision, where to go from here. Just feeling the impendingness of it today.

p.s. I told my husband last night what I was up to with this and he totally got it, how hard it is for me to do this just one line a day, since I often write a sonnet, or most of a sonnet, in the car on the way to work.

Fortunately, this isn’t the only writing I’m doing.
_____
12/7/12
So, no Babe the Blue Ox in the Slough of Despond yet. But there’s time. We’re only five lines in. A whole universe of crap can happen in 9 lines in a sonnet. Right now I’m thinking the next line will begin

Except for when

but I could totally change my mind by tomorrow.
_____
12/6/12
I decided I’d try to write a sonnet over a two-week period (14 days–seemed liked fate), one line a day. Curious if I’ll do it–I’m trying not to anticipate what I might write the next day or later, though it occurred to me this is kind of a version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which made me think of Paul Bunyan, so they might show up, with Babe in the slough of despond or something. Or not.

Two Week Sonnet, Day 5

Riding the line between abundance and chaos,
My stupid focus is on lack, lack, lack.
I try gratitude, but follow the switchback
Back toward loud whiny-assedness:
Too much. Too much! There really ought to be less

_____
12/7/12
So, no Babe the Blue Ox in the Slough of Despond yet. But there’s time. We’re only five lines in. A whole universe of crap can happen in 9 lines in a sonnet. Right now I’m thinking the next line will begin

Except for when

but I could totally change my mind by tomorrow.
_____
12/6/12
I decided I’d try to write a sonnet over a two-week period (14 days–seemed liked fate), one line a day. Curious if I’ll do it–I’m trying not to anticipate what I might write the next day or later, though it occurred to me this is kind of a version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which made me think of Paul Bunyan, so they might show up, with Babe in the slough of despond or something. Or not.

NaNoWriMo (no-whoa) NoCanDo

I’m happy for and jealous of friends and colleagues who plunge annually into National Novel Writing Month.  They post their daily word counts and I pout a little to myself.  I tried, two years ago, and felt swamped by the semester toward the end of the month, and gave up.

Now I have friends who are posting about DigiWriMo, and I was tempted, since I’m blogging, to sign up for this, but I resisted.

I’ve had to be brave and sing to myself, “no can do.”

See, my problem has never been finding time to write. My problem has never been lack of output.  I’m prolific as all get out.

Profligate, in fact. All those hours, all those drafts, all those poems, warehouses full really. Going to waste in isolation.

What I need is NaFiOnGoProBeYoMoOnMo:  National Finish One Goddam Project Before You Move On Month.

So that’s my November–continue working on “Guided Trespass,” a draft of a scholarly chapter for a book on creativity.

But I don’t want to feel utterly deprived, and I won’t. I’m still blogging, and writing poems in the car on the way to work, and here’s my big treat:  for every hour I spend researching and writing on “Guided Trespass,” I get to spend an hour working on expanding one of my approximately six billion ten-minute plays into a full-length play.

Because what I need is long-term success, not a good month. Kerry Rockquemore has not only a terrifically cool name, she has terrific advice. In her 2010 piece, “30 Days Until Finals,” she has the following as items on a list–

“Prioritizing your research and writing,” “Developing a consistent daily writing habit,” “Creating support and accountability for your writing.”

It’s that third one that I most need to work on.  Later in the list, we also get “understand what is holding you back,” which will maybe make December into UndWhaIsHoYoBacMo.

She finishes with “Releasing yourselves from the need to be Super Professor” and “Developing a spirit of compassion towards yourself as a writer.”

I don’t want to spend a month on either of those goals. I want to spend the rest of my career on the first, and the rest of my life on the latter.

Muncie Jones and the “Lawn Sprinkler of Hope”

It’s so easy for me to take an uncharitable view of the last 21 years and zoom in on the goals I haven’t met.

Tongue-in-crater-where-there-used-to-be-a-tooth.

A sort of obsessing that can be genuinely damaging.

If I do it long enough, I feel like George Bailey, surveying Potterville, with the full horror of it beginning to dawn on me:

(That’s actually a pretty good depiction of how I felt at AWP in Chicago, last spring, and Unmetgoalville was pretty much why, although I also get awfully used to my little town and don’t necessarily function well in towns larger than 17,000 or so, at least not without some self-coaching. Pitiful, really, given that 17,000 is how big Mt. Vernon is, where I went to high school–if you’d told 17-year-old Marnie that 47-year-old Marnie would have a hard time feeling comfortable in Chicago, the teenager would’ve laughed, since she regularly drove in the Windy City whilst visiting her brother.)

And here I am, coming across the teaching job that doesn’t even seem to recognize me.

“But I’m a full professor,” I yell, chasing the poor ad hoc position into the bar where she faints.

“My life’s not like that,” I says to myself. “Really it’s not,” I assure myself on a cold, rainy, November afternoon. “I’m not Muncie Jones.”

Whereas, of course, I am in some ways. Indiana Jones’s sister Muncie wasn’t intentionally a play on Virginia Woolf’s Judith (Shakespeare’s sis), but that had to be lurking in my mind somewhere.

However. Now that I’ve seen Shakespeare’s Will, I can’t think of any woman in Shakespeare’s life without thinking of Tracy Michelle Arnold.

Which is where things take a turn for the better. Tracy portrayed Anne Hathaway with a phenomenal range of vulnerability and fierceness. (Now that I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, everything has something to do with vulnerability.)

There is fierceness in this family of women–the Jones family, the Shakespeare family, my own family.

A lot of my life, that fierceness has come out in less-than-productive ways. It may be why I liked playing with fire.

In my middle age, I am finally, finally learning to channel that fierceness into focus and grit.

One of my role models is Jenny Shank, who first caught my eye in Poets & Writers (Jan/Feb 2011), when she wrote about being a “Ham-and-Egger,” a phrase she got from Don DeLillo, which she defines in this way:

“I love that phrase, ham-and-egger. It’s how I think of myself as a writer. I’m not going to dazzle anybody with lyricism or structural ingenuity. But I put my head down and work and sometimes a story comes of it. I ham-and-egg my way through. It took me a long time to figure out that not every writer has to be brilliant.”

She also writes about sobbing during a Fellini movie because it reminded her “of my childhood dream of becoming a writer, one that I haven’t shaken for three decades, a dream that I almost gave up on a number of times, even though I still continued to write.”

And if the subject matter itself weren’t inspiring enough, she referred back to Fellini and said “Okay, so I’m not an orphaned Italian hooker in a ratty fur. But inside, aren’t we all orphaned Italian hookers in ratty furs?”

I know I am.

And I sobbed and sobbed later that spring in 2011, two different times (I don’t sob much, so I remember them). One time was taking a detour on my way to work, to go sit in the gorgeous St. Luke’s in Plain, Wisconsin and pray–this was in the midst of Wisconsin’s Arabesque Spring, when we were protesting in the snow. I felt as though the job I’d worked so hard at for 20 years was just being spit on and ground into the mud by the heel of a governor’s anti-union, anti-education Act 10.

The other sobbing happened when I got my rejection from Wisconsin Wrights. I’d submitted a revised version of Gashouse Love, a full-length play I started writing in February of 2003. I got a full typed page of comments that told me pretty thoroughly the play didn’t work. That was the bad news. But there was plenty of good news in that page–the anonymous commenter took the play very seriously, was clearly hooked by it in several ways, and very much seemed to want it to work. The sobbing came from having put in a lot of hours revising, all those hours COMING TO NAUGHT (that’s how it felt at that moment), but mostly a sense of exhaustion (see previous paragraph’s sobbing) and utter bafflement–I had almost no idea at all how to make the play better, but any little hint of how to revise carried with it a tag of THIS WILL TAKE HOURS, WEEKS, MONTHS, POSSIBLY YEARS OF WORK.

But I didn’t give up. I didn’t. I almost can’t believe it, but I didn’t.

I am sure I had the phrase “ham-and-egger” in mind.

I’d spent most of the summer of 2010 working on the poems of Speakeasy Love Hard. Gashouse Love has three generations of a family dealing with what they call “the flapper girl poems,” and I knew those poems needed to exist in full, regardless of how much showed up in the play.

The anonymous commenter for Wisconsin Wrights said the poems needed to be in the play more, and I didn’t know how to do that. I know a little more, now.

The poems from 2010, whose origin was a play begun in 2003, finally went public in the fall of 2012. It was a wonderful evening. One of the outcomes of getting to hear Sarah Day, Ashleigh LaThrop, and Nate Burger read those poems was that I felt as though a nuclear reaction had gone off in the middle of Gashouse Love.

Is the path to revision any clearer? No–but I’m excited to work on my writing plan for the rest of this semester/academic year, and will include in it “Listen to recording of Speakeasy Love Hard multiple times, with friends, taking notes and getting feedback on revising Gashouse Love.” I’m giddy with the thought of it because that play needs those poems. All of them.

Forever is how long I’ve heard you have to focus less on publication and more on enjoying revision. Could it be I’m finally there?

Not that I’m giving up on publishing. I’m not. But I am compartmentalizing and strategizing. Here again, Jenny Shank’s article was helpful: she says she invented “Johnny Business” as a way to compartmentalize the publication goals. It seems to me he lives in the same neighborhood as Michael Perry’s muse–Perry says his muse is the guy at the bank who’ll repossess his house if he doesn’t write more and get paid for it.

All of this is validated in creativity studies. In a textbook on creativity (would love to teach or take a class using this as a textbook!), Mark Runco summarizes several sources on persistence and calls it “a prerequisite for creative accomplishment,” saying that “important insights often demand a large investment of time.”

“A decade may be necessary for the person to master the knowledge necessary to understand the gaps and nuances of a field.”

[Or in my special, special case, a decade OR TWO.]

Runco quotes Arthur Cropley (one of his books charmingly has a picture of a chicken and an egg on it) who says, “In addition to possessing certain personal traits, creative individuals are characterized by their willingness to expend effort.”

Runco follows that up with a nice reiteration: “That is a good definition of persistence: The willingness to expend effort.”

Jenny Shank’s efforts are paying off–her most recent book, The Ringer, won a High Plains Literary Award. I’m so happy for her!

And Muncie Jones? Maybe she hasn’t spent as much time dodging poison darts as her hotshot brother. But she’s hanging in there. She’s been teaching four sections a year for 21 years, and sure, in one way, you could say that job has has ground her soul down to nubbins.

But you could also say it’s been really helpful ballast, and that her hot air balloon, her ship, her (whatever transportation mode requires ballast), is about to dock somewhere truly exciting.

It’s like what Jenny Shank calls “a lawn sprinkler of hope that just sprays randomly around without any direct target.” That’s not cold, gray rain on my window. That’s hope.

This Is Just to Say Whatever Comes to Mind

Small-town newspapers, where they still exist, are a precious treat. In Spring Green, Wisconsin, we get The Home News, “the only newspaper in the whole, wide world that cares about the River Valley area” every Wednesday. Of course, The Voice of the River Valley, a free monthly, also implicitly cares (though that’s not on its masthead). This past month The Voice had poems (in honor of National Poetry Month) and has regularly carried poems in the past. One of the things I enjoyed about the Home News’ former editor, in addition to his progressive politics and weekly editorials featuring his dog, was his willingness to publish poetry on the editorial page. He was following a long tradition. According to Mike Chasar (whose blog I like and whose book I want),

“through most of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth…amateur poets hotly debated issues of abolition and women’s suffrage in verse form, writing their poems quickly in response not only to the day’s current events but also to the specific ideas and claims put forth in the previous day’s poems. As recently as the mid-1950s, in fact, the New York Times was in the habit of printing poems alongside letters to the editor on its opinion pages, making little or no distinction between the two.”

The fact that I am able to quote at length from Chasar’s article, entitled “Writing Good Bad Poetry,” which appeared in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers magazine in 2008, is the result of an argument I lost (am losing). “We do NOT need to keep all these,” I’ve insisted repeatedly to my husband over the years about the boxes and boxes of magazines. But my school library doesn’t subscribe to Poets & Writers, and there aren’t very many articles archived online, so when I remembered the article & looked it up in the database at school, I could have ordered a copy of the article on interlibrary loan. Or I could do what I did, come home and find it.

The willingness to wait a few more days
To get what I wanted from interlibrary loan
Would free up so much square footage in my home
That I could house a family of refugees.
But I’m married to a pack rat. I am one, too.
It’s just I used to purge more often. He won’t.
Or rather, he seldom does. We never do
Much of anything until we absolutely must.
In preparing for a visit from the appraiser this spring
We both set to work cleaning and organizing
And yes, purging. The appraiser was the amiable dad
Of a former student of mine. He and my husband had
A rambling talk. Appraised well, we locked in three percent.
We’re not an episode of “Hoarders.” At least not yet.

Chasar recounts writing poetry for Iowa City’s Press-Citizen in response to an editor’s request. The editor was wanting something “akin to what George Orwell called ‘good bad novels,’ which the author defined as fiction that doesn’t aspire to official literary greatness but that is nonetheless skillfully and admirably written for the purposes or entertainment or political effect.” He analyzes some of the poems that got printed there and discusses what they did and didn’t accomplish, what “good bad poetry” in the newspaper can and can’t accomplish in general, and concludes the article by pretty much bragging that if nothing else, publishing poems in the paper got him a free beer.

When I include poems in my blog, my pay scale is even lower than Chasar’s (he wrote them for free), because no one’s bought me a beer as yet.

(Consider this a bald plea for a Furthermore or Lake Louie.)

So why do it?

Some of it’s inexplicable: I don’t really know why I write. I don’t really know why I’m compelled to share what I write (although every other memoirist and confessional poet understands why I feel copacetic about sharing my life with strangers).

I do know why I love sonnets, through which I record the world and process the world fairly often. Bob Wrigley once called sonnets the most anal-retentive form in the English language. In one way, you might think sonnets are the anti-clutter form, since you’re limited to a certain number of beats and lines (Song of Myself or Howl being the ultimate hoarder poems). But I think of a sonnet more as a phenomenally well-designed closet. You can pack an awful lot in there. And given the existence of sonnet series, and crowns of sonnets, and George Meredith’s 15-line sonnets, it’s an ever-expandable closet.

I could say I like posting poems in blogs because they encapsulate and elevate my everyday existence.

And if that’s true, it also explains why I don’t mind that the poems I post there aren’t even trying to be my best poems. Not art, necessarily. To chronicle the everyday, I have to write every day. And post every day. (Or as close to it as I can get—can I substitute everyfewdays as a synonym? My everyfewdays existence?) Other than minor tinkering, there’s not a whole of revision that can happen in that scenario.

Ron Wallace published a terrific book with the best sonnets from his project of writing a sonnet a day for a year–but he revised a lot to get to the book, The Uses of Adversity.

In general, I think art takes revision.

This is not all merely to say that when I look back at “Metaphors: A Semester” I pretty much go “meh,” although that is pretty much what I go. I suppose in that sense the five stanzas were art imitating life because “meh” was how I was feeling about the semester at that point, but we don’t really want art imitating life in those moments, now do we.

This is just to say–wait! Where have I heard that before?

And thus the most compelling question I can think of at the moment (other than the whole “What’s cooler? Mod Squad or Starsky & Hutch?” conversation we had at supper) is this:

If all our favorite poets had blogged, what would they have posted?

For better or worse, I feel certain Robert Lowell would have posted EVERYTHING. With him in mind, let me just say that I hope some of my blog poems, eventually, could end up in my own Life Studies. Until then, you know where to find them.