friday roundup: ‘I write by hand,’ disruptive junctures, and ‘this slow trek to rediscover’

old & new

old & new

Hello, Reader. It’s Friday. “Ski week” is almost over. We have changed the beds. We have worked on school projects. We have practiced multiplication facts (we have our 6’s down pat). We have read so many good poems this week (especially here)! We have laughed about, and learned about, the capybara. We have been to the library and wandered around the neighborhood. We have resisted the urge to eat french fries for dinner last night, and we have been to writing group. It has been a good week. Now, onward:

‘I write by hand’  This week, there was a ceremonial changing of the notebooks. I finished one and began another. I made a solemn pledge to myself that this time I would go back and fish out all the scraps and ideas from the old one, and that I would actually use the table of contents I made at the beginning of the new one. So far I’m on track, bit by bit. The joy of a new notebook is almost unrivaled for me. Joy about the old one full of work, play, beginnings, scraps, drafts, and a sense of accomplishment for having filled it. Joy about the new one: wide open space, an unspoiled field of potential, waiting for what’s next. For me, despite the benefits of all the digital tools at our disposal, there’s something important and generative in putting an actual pen to an actual piece of paper.

This piece over at Brain Pickings quotes the author Mary Gordon who captured this sentiment exactly in her essay “Putting Pen to Paper, But Not Just Any Pen to Any Paper.” Gordon says:

Writing by hand is laborious, and that is why typewriters were invented. But I believe that the labor has virtue, because of its very physicality. For one thing it involves flesh, blood and the thingness of pen and paper, those anchors that remind us that, however thoroughly we lose ourselves in the vortex of our invention, we inhabit a corporeal world.

The mention of typewriters seems rather quaint at this point, but her words about the physicality — the “thingness” — of writing with pen and paper really resonate for me. Read the whole article here.

Do you write by hand? Or are you all-digital now? I’d love to hear about your creative canvas (so to speak) in comments.

disruptive junctures  I’ve been thinking a lot about line and stanza breaks lately. Mostly because I really love to hide in the beautiful and meditative structure of couplets (or sometimes the beautiful and woven structure of tercets). And sometimes poems require that we come out from hiding (whatever our hiding places are). So I’ve been reading and trying to learn about when and how to do that — how to recognize poems or moments in a poem that require something different.

This week I read a short essay by Dana Gioia called “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Poetic Line.” (BTW, can we all agree that the whole “thirteen ways” thing has been used eight ways to Sunday and we can move on to a new trope now!? No offense to Mr. Gioia or Wallace Stevens). Anyway, here are a few things Gioia says about line:

  • Line is a tool to communicate and intensify meaning.
  • Lineation establishes a rhythm or pattern of expectation in the reader (he likens this to enchantment).
  • The established pattern of expectation should only be interrupted in the case of “meaningful expressive variation,” an instance of which Gioia calls “disruptive juncture.”
  • After a disruptive juncture, the poem should either return to its original pattern of expectation, or enter a new one (in both cases, as reflected in lineation).

I really like this idea of the “disruptive juncture” — that moment in the poem that says: Hey you, pay attention here! Perhaps this notion will help me to come out of my couplet-hiding, and I hope it’s helpful to you, too. If you want to read all thirteen ways, here’s a link to the full essay.

‘this slow trek to discover’ Last night at writing group I let my eyes wander to a stack of magazines and articles in the host’s home, and saw an article that began with this quote from Albert Camus:

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

(I’m sure even Mr. Camus would, at this point, agree that the same is true for a woman).

This quote made me think of a Stanley Kunitz poem I’d re-read earlier in the week. It was one of the first poems that really broke open my heart when I applied myself seriously to poetry 10 years ago or so. The poem is called “After the Last Dynasty,” and the image that opened my heart was one of a note pinned to a door “ten years late.” Here’s the whole poem:


After the Last Dynasty   by Stanley Kunitz

Reading in Li Po
how “the peach blossom follows the water”
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
Chairman Mao,
naturally with the sex
and the figure slighter.
Loving you was a kind
of Chinese guerilla war.
Thanks to your lightfoot genius
no Eight Route Army
kept its lines more fluid,
traveled with less baggage,
so nibbled the advantage.
Even with your small bad heart
you made a dance of departures.
In the cold spring rains
when last you failed me
I had nothing left to spend
but a red crayon language
on the character of the enemy
to break appointments,
to fight us not
with his strength
but with his weakness,
to kill us
not with his health
but with his sickness.
Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony,
here is a new note
I want to pin on your door,
though I am ten years late
and you are nowhere.
Tell me,
are you still mistress of the valley,
what trophies drift downriver,
why did you keep me waiting?


Holy smokes! I love that poem begins in near-hilarity (even back then, when I was nervous about laughing at anything in a poem, I laughed out loud at the Chairman Mao reference), but then very quickly and stealthily becomes very tender and sad. I love that “small bad heart” and the “dance of departures.” I almost want to cross myself at the trinity of “Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony.” And then the note, the note. And those three questions at the end, which you will note (speaking of notes) unfold more quickly and, it seems to me, more painfully, because they are not all three punctuated with question marks as they could easily be. No, instead they bleed into one another and give the last question even more finality.

So now we know why Stanley Kunitz was a Rock Star poet in his day.

And now, speaking of disruptive junctures, there appears to be an argument unfolding on the patio about whether tennis or two-square would be a better game to play. You will excuse me while I go see what I can do to settle it. Have a wonderful weekend, and as always, thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “friday roundup: ‘I write by hand,’ disruptive junctures, and ‘this slow trek to rediscover’

  1. i write first and second drafts in a notebook, and take notes, word lists, other various helpful things to my writing. i learned that part of “writing process” from my first creative writing teacher in college and its something i pass along to my students now.

  2. All hail the changing of the journal! I love that time as well, and I agree that writing by hand changes how we write. I simply cannot begin a poem on the computer. I might not draft the whole thing by hand, but the poems always begin in that intimate, physical act of forming each letter.

    I’m intrigued by your table of contents!

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