friday roundup with omission

proof_1

Note to self: the delete symbol comes first.

Happy Friday. It is another “hawt” one here in the Peninsula Town. I’m always grateful for the cold, deep, indifferent Pacific, which helps cool things down overnight at least.

Last week I was busy with school deadlines and I was amazed to discover how happy I was about it. Poems and essays and things to say about them. Questions to ask of them. Close readings to make of them. It reminded me of the time during my first graduate program twenty years ago, when I could spend a whole day in the library reading and writing, while feeling it must only have been an hour. Back then, no school pick up, no hungry bellies about, nothing to call me away until I noticed the light was shifting, that it was getting dark, that the ranks of the library dwellers and thinned considerably since I last looked up, that I should probably walk home to my tiny, roach-infested apartment and have something to eat.

It’s good to have things we love to get lost in. Even if our lostness doesn’t last as long as it might have once, or might again someday.

This week I got lost in “Omission,” a piece by John McPhee in The New Yorker (Digression to say: Please tell me I’m not the only one who gets stressed out when The New Yorker arrives without fail every week and I am already behind on last week’s The New Yorker, and how am I ever going to keep up with The New Yorker?) McPhee is what I think we could call a nature writer; at least, his subject matter is often the natural world. But in recent years he’s been writing pieces for The New Yorker on writing. Without fail, I love them and learn from them. Here are some juicy bits from “Omission”:

“Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word?”

“At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.”

“Ideally a piece of writing should grow to whatever length is sustained by its selected material—that much and no more.”

He goes on to describe, amongst other things, the process of “greening” that took place at Time magazine when he worked there. After a piece of writing was finished and approved by editors, the piece would go to Makeup (which I think we can think of as the layout department). It would come back to the writer with directions to “Green 5” or “Green 8″—which meant to underline the text in green pencil which could be cut in order to reduce the piece by the number of lines in the instructions so that it would fit in the final, published version of the magazine.

If this is not a perfect revision exercise, I don’t know what is. I’m planning on writing “Green (insert # here)” on little pieces of paper and putting them in a drawer, then pulling one out each time I work on revision. Green 4! Bye, bye, darlings. Goodbye favorite image that might even be good but not crucial. So long, last stanza.

In poetry, one form of omission is what we sometimes call “subverting the narrative.” In subverting the narrative, the poet makes the decision not to tell the story behind the poem, or at least not to tell it like a story. Here’s a Marvin Bell poem that I feel makes masterful use of omission in this way:

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“Gradually, It Occurs to Us…” by Marvin Bell

Gradually, it occurs to us
that none of it was necessary—
not the heavy proclaiming
the sweat and length of our love
when, together, we thought it the end;
nor the care we gave your dress,
smoothing it as we would the sky;
nor the inevitable envelope of This-
is-the-time-we-always-knew-would-come,
and-goodbye. All that was ever needed
was all we had to offer,
and we have had it all. I have your absence.
And have left myself inside you.
Now when you come back to me,
or I to you, don’t give it a thought.
This time, when first we fall into bed,
we won’t know who we are, or where,
or what is going to happen to us.
Time is memory. We have the time.

–from Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See (and sorry to link to the Devil himself)
*

You can read the whole John McPhee article here. Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks for reading.

friday roundup on saturday. because, life.

Solitude by Émile Bernard (wikimedia)

Solitude by Émile Bernard (wikimedia)

Hello Reader. I sat down to write this post yesterday but Plans Changed.

Since the last roundup there has been: three flights; one family wedding; one million hugs from one million aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers, fathers, brothers, nieces, nephews, brides, etc.; one sweet baby held in my arms; one foreign object in one child’s eye; one foreign object removal procedure; three half-days of school; three appointments at the allergy clinic; one bout with stomach flu (not me, thank goodness); five sore throats; copious amounts of tea; many dinners cooked and a few abandoned; one poem draft begun and left in flagrante delicto due to, well, life.

Through it all I have been reading (some) and writing (barely) in whatever cracks and crevices of time open up to me. Here’s what’s on my mind these days:

on getting lost  Oh, that’s right — I’ve also been watching the videos from this MOOC and scribbling notes like crazy. Then napping. Most of the content has been really good and has given me lots to think about and a few new tricks to try. There have been many little gems tossed about by Very Famous Poets, but here is one from a Slightly Less Famous Poet, Mary Hickman, who was talking about prose poems. She said:

“Prose loses itself to find itself. Poetry loses itself to stay lost.”

I love this idea, and it reminds me that the point of reading poetry is not to “get” it, but to experience the poem and whatever it opens up for the reader.

essentials  If you, like me, were not an English major and there are Holes in your poetry education, and if you, like me, feel overwhelmed when faced with 912 pages of Whitman’s collected poems (or 847 pages of some other poet’s collected poems), may I recommend Ecco’s series called Essential Poets. It’s odd — on all the vast Interwebs I cannot find a link to the series as a whole, and even to find individual titles is not always a snap. But bascially, the titles go like this: “Essential (Last Name of Very Famous (Usually Dead) Poet).” Inside these volumes are selections of the most essential works of each poet.

I will not at this time attempt to define “essential” comprehensively. I think of it as: here are the poems all the other, better-educated poets know about from this poet, and that you should, too.

Anyway, I’ve been re-reading Whitman and some words from Galway Kinnell’s introduction to his selections for Essential Whitman sparked my interest this week. Kinnell, explaining his selections in the face of Whitman’s habit of revising ad infinitum, writes:

“All writers know this law: revision succeeds in inverse ratio to the amount of time passed since the work was written.”

I did not know this law, said the poet who just had a poem published that she worked on for nine years before sending out.

“Revision is most likely to improve a poem when it directly follows composition, because it is, in fact, a slower, more reflective phase of the creative act.”

Yes! I have certainly experienced at least the latter half of this statement.

“The only exception to the law is that ill-written and extraneous material may be excised with good effect at any time.”

I’m all for getting rid of anything ill-written and/or extraneous.

In general, I’m not a fan of all-or-nothing statements, “every poet knows” pronouncements, and/or “only exceptions.” But I do think it’s very interesting, novel, and true to my experience that revision can be another phase of the creative act.

lastly, a poem  I’ve been reading Ruth Ellen Kocher’s domina Un/blued and it is fascinating. There are not a lot (only one that I could find) of poems from domina Un/blued find-able online. I’ve also been thinking a lot about solitude, and in my searchings found a Kocher poem on that subject that I think is very fine. Here it is:
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Cartographilia by Ruth Ellen Kocher

The door doesn’t understand solitude anymore than you
having always sought or been sought

I mean to say I know less and less
And know you know less and less also

The shore edge foam and caw of water
You lose

Instead of knowing You sleep somewhere else
You feel the air preparing to speak

I do not know what the air says to you
The closet with your shoes is quiet like the door

(first published here)

*
I feel deliciously lost for the purpose of staying lost at the end of this poem. I would like to stay there.

Alas, duty calls: laundry, groceries, cleaning the house. Thanks for reading and happy Memorial Day weekend to you.

friday unroundup: just three poems

a draft of Plath’s “Ariel” with notes for revision

Hello and happy Friday.

There are many things I’ve been reading about and thinking about and writing about this week, but I just don’t have a full-fledged roundup in me today.

But we always have poems, right?

So here are three — one is new-to-me and two are old, faithful companions.

a blood sisterhood  A po-friend linked to Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying” on Facebook this morning, and I was immediately whisked back to the first time I read this poem. Age nineteen (how had I NOT read it before then!!??), the second floor of the library at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland (long story). “I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood” but when I read this poem I knew I had found one.

Here is “Blackberrying.”

(and thank you Sandy Longhorn)

revision  Long-time readers know that I am a committed disciple of revision. And so when I find a poem that is, in some way, a revision, or is “about” revision, or that has the word “revision” in the title, I am usually a sucker for it. As I am for this poem, Laura Van Prooyen’s “Revision” featured today on Verse Daily.

I could probably write a three-page paper about all the things I admire about this poem. In fact, I am getting really good at churning out three-page papers lately. Alas, there are other three-page papers to be written today.

this earth the beloved left  Speaking of revision, it seems the world and our lives are constantly subject to it. This week someone dear to me was laid to rest; his once-strong body returned to the earth. Gregory Orr’s “Untitled [This is what was bequeathed us]” has been a faithful companion for years, but especially so this week. Here it is.

Happy weekend and thanks for reading.

 

 

four things I’m doing for National Poetry Month

 

photo from wikimedia

photo from wikimedia

Happy April is Poetry Month, no foolin’.

(BTW, I’ve always found it rather hilarious that National Poetry Month begins on April Fool’s Day).

I’m not writing a poem a day for poetry month. I took a look at where my work is, and decided instead to:

submit — I have submissions out at only three journals right now. Only three! And before we know it, many journals will be closing for the summer. So my number one priority for poetry month will be to send out a few submissions a week to my list of kinship journals (an always-evolving list). And if I’m going to be submitting, it means I will also need to…

revise — Submissions and revisions are joined at the hip for me. I’ve always wanted to unhinge one from the other, but so far haven’t figured out how. Maybe someday. For now, to the revisions/submissions process I say: I accept. I’ll be looking through promising drafts and using these tips, these tips, these tips, and also these tips.

So that’s two things… . The third thing I’m going to do for poetry month is a 30-day trial of Scrivener software for writers. Scrivener is a software program that allows you to electronically organize your notebooks, index cards, drafts, notes, updates, jottings, etc. It also allows you to compile large documents — say a poetry manuscript — from various smaller documents within the program. I can see immediately that this would be useful for long form writers: fiction writers, essayists, academic writers. I have a hunch it could be a good tool for poets as well, but I’m not 100% sure. And I’m always a little nervous when leaving behind one process for another, so I’ll be shadowing my Scrivener adventure with my usual Word documents that contain background notes, free writes, early drafts, and each revision. I’ll use the 30-day trial this month both for poetry and for a book review I’m working on, and I’ll let you know what I think about its utility for poets. Stay tuned.

Lastly — and here’s where there’s something in it for you — I’m going to revive my unintentionally-abandoned practice of sending out The Handout (You will note if you read the link that this is not the first occurrence of unintentional abandonment. Mea culpa.). All month, I’ll be setting aside poems that I find a.maz.ing in some way, and then I’ll cut and paste and copy and mail the poems to your mailbox. If you want them.

If you are already on my The Handout list, you don’t need to do anything. If you’d like to be on my The Handout list, send me your name and snail mail address with “The Handout” in the subject line to: mollycspencer (at) gmail (dot) com. I’ll add you to the list. The stamp’s on me.

Happy National Poetry Month!

 

friday roundup: if I can muster it edition

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

the ghostly boats of Abydos, wikipedia

Reader? Hi.

I sat down just now wondering what I’d done this week — what had I read, remembered, pondered, written? Scramble-brain set in. Which is why it’s good to have a record of things: that stack of books next to my desk, the journals stashed in my purse for impromptu poetry moments, my trusty notebook. I looked back and decided I actually can muster a roundup this morning (afternoon for some of you). Here we go:

tools for reparation  In this post I mentioned that I’d checked out a book called The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. I’m always drawn by stories of later-in-life undertakings, but was especially drawn to this book because it’s written by a poet, Molly Peacock. I was hoping I’d learn something — come to new insights, or find ways of articulating a previously muddled thought — about poetry. I have not been disappointed. I want to share with you some excerpts about perfectionism, passion, and craft, which I think can be applied to any art:

“Great technique m eans that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet, paradoxically, it’s proficiency that allows a person to make any art at all; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which, in an odd way, is technique forgotten.”

“The joy of technique is the buldging bag of tricks it gives you to solve your dilemmas. Craft gives you the tools for reparation.”

“Sometimes a blunder shifts the observer into a greater tenderness of observation.”

“When invention fails and you are overcome by what you may have ruined, knowing how to reconstruct releases the energy to fix the flaws and go on. Craft dries your tears.”

I love that last sentence best: “Craft dries your tears.” Amen.

more than style  Here’s an article by David Biespiel that someone linked to on Facebook this week (thank you, whoever you are… I can no longer remember). He talks about a movement in poetry toward “subjectlessness” in which style itself becomes the raison d’être of the poem, and argues for more substance in poetry — in a world where all sorts of actual disjuncture, distress, and ellipses (e.g., war, injustice, people disappearing from the face of the earth) unfold every day. He says, “Deftness has become a substitute for compassion.” (I have oversimplified here a bit in the interest of brevity).

I’m on the fence about what to think about this. My personal preference as a reader is to have something at stake in a poem — that it go beyond a mere exercise of language. For me, poems become more powerful when they can illuminate our experiences in some meaningful way, when they can tell me something about being human that I didn’t know, or couldn’t articulate, before. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think what’s at stake needs to be something political. And I tend to think there’s room for all kinds of poetry, and all kinds of preferences on the part of readers. And even room for some subjectlessness at times — because, doesn’t even that sometimes reflect our experience?

What do you think about what Biespiel has to say? Share in comments if you like.

an intended tide  This week I’ve been reading the most recent issue of 32 Poems. Which I love. A lot. I’d like to share with you Sandra Beasley’s poem from this issue (which I’m unable to find online):

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The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, Line #1015: “Please Come In The Boat Of To-Day”
by Sandra Beasley

Beneath whitewash, beneath brick, beneath mud,
fourteen boats of Abydos row toward eternity.
No bodies here — only the ghost-shit of ants,
who consume the hulls but leave the shape behind.
Each timber tongues its neighbor, tenon to mortise,
with nothing but rope to hold them together.
No pegs, no joists.
Who builds boats like that?

Only those expecting to unbuild boats like that,
to stack the tamarix planks on their heads,
to walk seventy miles to the Red Sea in search of
trade. Fair is a human conceit. Priests know this.
Carpenters know this. They bundle the reeds
anyway, packing seams tight for an intended tide.
They cut planks from a cedar with a deep taproot
that salts the earth around itself, and will not burn

*

A vade mecum is “a book for ready reference” or “something regularly carried about by a person” (fans of A Room with a View will remember the Baedeker?). I love the idea of appropriating old texts for new insights. I love how the image of these ghost-boats speaks to both endurance and ephemerality. I love the question that acts as a pivot point in the poem, “Who builds boats like that?” And then, the poet has the courage to answer, and somehow we see ourselves in “those expecting to unbuild boats like that… .” There is so much here that I feel I can mine as person and poet.

And now, it’s time for me to lift anchor for the library where I have found an even sunnier, even quieter corner, and — bonus! — there is a man who sits there most days who is not afraid to tell people, “You’re not supposed to talk in this room.” I’m grateful for him, since the best I’m able to muster is an annoyed look and a raised eyebrow.

Happy friday, happy poeming (or whatever you love to do) and happy weekend. Thanks for reading.

friday roundup: on balance, twenty-two hacks, and “the mother, the witch, the briny womb”

Sometimes you just have to drop everything and notice how beautiful your front walk is.

Sometimes you just have to drop everything and notice how beautiful your front walk is.

Hello, Reader, and happy Friday. It’s finally fall in the Peninsula Town and I’m reveling in the gorgeousness of falling leaves. Yesterday when our yard helper came and swept up many of our Ginko tree’s fallen leaves, the little sister of this household wept copiously. “But they’re so beautiful,” she cried, “I wanted them to stay.” I know just how she feels. Speaking of beautiful and fleeting things, let’s talk poems:

on balance  Well, first let’s talk balance. Kelli Russell Agodon wrote a post this week called “The Balance Dilemma: Putting Your Writing First.” You should read it. Even if you are not a writer, you should read it. Because it talks about how to make your writing (or whatever your life’s work is) your first priority.

One thing I love about the post is that it doesn’t give you any sweeping advice about how to do it. There is no magic wand with a writing time spell inside it. Kelli list a few small but concrete ways she ekes out more writing time in her life. It reminds me of the old family budget. I don’t know about at your house, but at our house there are no big ticket items to cut out and suddenly have a bunch of extra money every month (Oh, okay, I guess let’s not go to Aruba after all. Um, no.). No, we pinch pennies by taking short showers, turning out the lights in unused rooms, and eating lots of legumes. The way you eke out more time for your life’s work will be different than Kelli’s or mine or anyone else’s. But you can do it.

The other thing I love is the image that accompanies the post. I think of it as: Floating Woman with Typewriter. This image captures exactly how I feel so many days — I’m trying to stay anchored in my writing, but there go my feet… the world is pulling at me… and it’s hard not to float away from the work.

twenty-two hacks  Here’s a post from Carmen Giminez Smith who’s guest blogging at Harriet this month. She lists twenty-two “hacks” (you could think of them as quick fixes) to apply to your poem as you work on it. Many of them you’ve probably seen before, but the list is worth having in your revision file — you’ve seen the strategies before because they work, right? And then there are a few that maybe you haven’t seen before. A worthy list either way.

“the mother, the witch, the briny womb”  I’ve been reading Sally Rosen Kindred’s chapbook Darling Hands, Darling Tongue which recently came out from Hyacinth Girl Press. Oh, how I love this chapbook and the world it creates around the story of Peter Pan. I would tell you more about it but Kathleen Kirk has already done the heavy lifting in her review of the book at Escape Into Life. Go over and read it, and while you’re there look for a few of Sally’s poems that appeared in this feature at EIL, too. A particular favorite of mine is “Story Hour” — it seems to perfectly compose the atmosphere of those afternoon read-alouds we remember from childhood, and somehow also encompasses the mother’s complicated perspective. Congratulations to Sally on this fine, fine work.

Now I’m off to do some of my own work. I can’t promise it will be fine, but I’m going to try hard not to float away from it until the kids get home from school. Thanks for reading!

not-so-wordless wednesday: seasons

waiting for this...

waiting for this…

waiting season This time of year, I start waiting for a crisp edge in the air, for the leaves to show their true colors. I’m ready for sweaters and stew, corduroys and actual socks and shoes (as opposed to sandals). I want gunmetal grey skies and a stiff wind.

Here it is already our third autumn in the Peninsula Town(!), and I’m starting to catch the drift that in September and October we seem to get our hottest weather, and the trees are green, green, green. There is one tree I’ve noticed — it looks like some kind of sycamore — that looks like it might consider dropping its leaves, but other than that — still summer as far as the flora and temperatures are concerned.

I’m learning to see autumn in a shifting quality of light, and a joyous return to my desk for long stretches of time during the day.

back-at-my-desk season  Don’t look now, but for the last three weeks I’ve been cranking away at my desk while the kids are at school; second shift starts at 2:15 when they get out. Yes, as a family we’re back to the season of digging for clean socks in the dryer and running out of T.P. And at my desk, it’s been application season — a residency application that’s finished and submitted, plus one more that I hope to have done ~October 1.

submissions season  I’m also happy to report I’ve send a few packets of poems out into the world recently. The start of the fall submissions season doesn’t wait for leaves to turn. I’ve found that turning my attention to submissions is one way to break open poems for revision. Once they’re in mini-manuscripts — stout little piles of poems that play well together –, I can get a new angle on what might need to happen in one poem or another.

reading season  It’s always reading season, and here’s what I’m reading (or re-reading in the case of these collections):

Malinda Markham’s Ninety-five Nights of Listening. Beautiful, spare, image-rich poems, low on narrative, high on feeling. I’m looking at how this poet intersperses her poems with questions, and what that does to the tenor of the collection as a whole.

Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume. This book just won the Washington State Book Award, a well-deserved honor IMHO. I’m looking at how this poet weaves together the personal and the political, and how naming — by which I mean using the actual names of people and places — brings an immediacy to this collection that it would lack (I think) if the poet had not named people and places specifically. An example: there is a character, Carolyn, who is clearly the speaker’s friend. Knowing this character as Carolyn rather than as ‘a friend’ or ‘my friend’ makes her feel more real and immediate to me.

Jennifer Richter’s Threshold This book continues to be a favorite of mine, and like any good collection, opens itself up in new ways each time I read it. This time, I’m studying how the poet uses point of view to increase and decrease the psychic distance (or lack thereof) in various poems, and in various threads of the collection.

Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec. The word that comes to mind is profusion. A profusion of language, an anchored chaos of words to create a world (can chaos be anchored? I’m going with Yes). Right now, I’m just immersing myself in this poet’s voice and mining words and syntax to weave into my own poems.

not drafting season, not so much  Truth: I’ve not drafted any new work these last few weeks. Other seasons are primary right now. Even though I’ve learned that this is how the writing life works — a time to draft, a time to apply, a time to send out, a time to revise, a time to refrain from revising 🙂 — I still get nervous when I’m in a drafting/generative fallow period. To keep the fires stoked, I continue with short pieces of morning writing that come out of what I’m reading. Once application season is over, I’ll go back to my goal of one draft a week.

season of what else is coming up  Check back here soon for an interview with poet and radio commenter Molly Fisk.

**

What seasons have taken hold in your world? What are you reading, thinking about, learning? Share in comments, if you like.

And now, since it’s going through my head and it’s been a while since I’ve listened to it, and maybe it’s been a while for you, too:

friday roundup: taking stock (again), on images and symbols, and ‘the last thing lost’

from wikimedia

from wikimedia

Dear Reader,

There is nothing on my calendar today. Not.one.thing. Therefore shall I gather mine writerly belongings and goeth to the library, and there maketh an offering unto the muse, or if the muse be absent, writeth anyway.

But first, the roundup:

taking stock (again)  It seems much of my writerly time of late has been spent taking stock. Printing, piling, sorting, listing, weaving, unweaving. I’ve been looking at all these poems and asking, Where do you want to go? What are you doing over there in that pile? Do you have to be such a loudmouth? Have you seen the Mail Order Bride lately? — she seems to be playing hide-and-seek. And other questions. And then, the residency application I worked on last week was also a big stock-taking activity.

Yesterday, in the brief window I had for writing related activities, I did some more taking stock — because I know I need to do some big revising. Because, in case you haven’t heard, lots of journals are reopening for submissions right about now.

As with so many other elements of the writing life, I’ve only learned how to take stock of my work only by doing it. There is often a lot of flailing around before clarity begins to emerge. There is some kind of intuitive process that begins to pile certain poems together, that jots notes, finds connections, sees the different organizing principles of the work (content, diction, voice, image, narrative thread, etc.).

And there is patience. The willingness to sit with incomplete ideas and let them remain incomplete.

When’s the last time you took stock of your work? Do you have a method for doing it? I’d love to hear from you in comments about this.

on images and symbols  Reader, I’m still not over it: Seamus Heaney is dead. There have been many heartening articles about his work and life all over the interwebs, and I’ve been mining them for gems. Like the one from this article in the New York Times:

In his workaday searching for “images and symbols adequate to our predicament” he included all of life,…

Because I know I’ll be boarding the good ship S.S. Revision any day now, I’m thinking about this quote through revision’s lens. I’m thinking: What if we asked these questions of our poems:

1. What predicament does this poem attempt to illuminate?
2. Is each image and/or symbol in the poem adequate to that predicament?

(Side note: Interestingly, the word ‘predicament,’ which we use to name a difficult or fraught situation or condition, comes from the Latin words for “to say” and “forth, before” — in other words, to to assert, to declare publicly, to make a claim. Yes, the subjects of our poems are public declarations. Etymology info here.)

I suspect Mr. Heaney would say that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find symbols and images that are truly adequate to our predicament, but that it’s the job of the poet to try.

…and finally…

‘the last thing lost’  Have I ever mentioned that Verse Daily is my absolute favorite daily poetry site? No? Well it is.

Because I’m not very good at doing anything every day except drinking  coffee, brushing my teeth, and feeding my kids, I sometimes miss the day’s poem. Luckily, I stumbled across this one (can’t remember how… internet rabbit holes — I love them) better late than never. Reader, I give you “Calf” by Lisa Coffman.

Hmmm, what poem could you write under the title “the last thing lost?”

And now, it’s off to my sunny library table for me. I hope you have a wonderful Friday and a relaxing weekend. Thanks, as always, for reading.

friday roundup: the voice of an atmosphere, waves of revision, and the architecture I recall

solstice at Stonehenge, wikimedia

solstice at Stonehenge, wikimedia

Friday again, and it’s officially summer. Last night, on the longest night (longest day — of course I meant day! It’s so embarrassing to be wrong on the Internet! #scatterbrained) of the year, I told Husband I was going to the pharmacy – and I had every intention of going to the pharmacy – but then I went to the bookstore. There is about one one-hundredth of a percent of me that’s a rebel. This one one-hundredth of a percent of me occasionally has blue streaks put in her hair, and last night wanted to be untraceable for at least a few minutes. I wanted, for a short time, no one to know where I was. When I was in my 20s, living in New York City by myself for a summer, nobody knew where I was most of the time. I used to think, I could die, and no one would know for days or even weeks. Since 2001, someone has almost always known exactly where I am. I have to say, it was a delicious 20 minutes in the bookstore – a woman cut loose from the map. That woman browsed, bought a book, then went to the pharmacy, then – happily – home.

That woman is now at the pool for her offspring’s swim practice, and is ready for the roundup:

the voice of an atmosphere  A friend posted this article on Facebook this week, and I found it fascinating. We all know that Comic Sans is, well, comic, but now we know more about why. In brief the article describes studies that indicate that the fonts we use can influence a reader’s impressions of our work and intelligence. I love that we live in a world where typeface matters and where people study why and how. And remember, Reader, friends don’t let friends use Comic Sans.

waves of revision  I’ve written before about revising in waves but this week, I made preparations to try a new way into revision. I’ve grouped the stack o’ poems in stout little piles of 5 to 7 poems that, taken together, could be a(n admittedly loose) thread of language and/or imagery. This is different from the process of creating mini-manuscripts for submissions – groups of poems that play well together, while also showing range. Instead, I grouped the poems according to tone, diction, syntax, and/or shared imagery. I’m hoping that the working on the poems together will give them the opportunity to inform one another according to the elements of craft, rather than elements of meaning. I’ll keep you posted about how this goes and what I learn.

the architecture I recall  And speaking of language and imagery and being cut loose from the map and other topographical concerns, here is a poem I’ve been reading and re-reading this week in Malinda Markham’s Ninety-five Nights of Listening. The word I think of as I read this poem is “dislocation.” Listen, Reader, to the language she uses and the quiet but charged atmosphere she creates.

And now, I bid you farewell for today. I’ll be away from the blog for most of the next several days, but stay tuned for more updates on summer writing and reading, and hopefully a few author interviews, too. Thanks for reading!

friday roundup: le mot juste, patterns, and “Dear Day”

root system from wikimedia

root system from wikimedia

Happy Friday, Reader! Do you know the phrase sunt lacrimae rerum? It’s from the Aeneid and it means (roughly) “there are tears in things.” I thought of the phrase last night when someone came to pick up one of the two family cars — the oldest one went, after 16 years of service — and two thirds of the kids burst into tears. Believe me, the car was nothing to cry over and there is a new-to-us used car in much better shape to take its place for the next 16 years (At which point, I said to Husband last night, we will be almost 60! His response: “DON’T.do.that.to.me.”). But it reminded me that things — objects — can become imbued with significance for us. I feel connected to my writing desk, certain pens and coffee mugs,  books, the antique, wooden Kraft cheese box I brought with me from our house in St. Paul (there were several built in to little nooks beneath the stairway).

I even have a tears-in-things relationship with our refrigerator. As in: I could cry, frig, at the speed with which you empty yourself out. 🙂 (This thought is always followed quickly with a little prayer of thanks for the fact of refrigeration and nearby grocery stores).

At any rate, on to the roundup:

let mot juste  Have you read John McPhee’s recent New Yorker article “Draft No. 4”? I always enjoy his pieces about the writing life, and this one is another winner. In it, he discusses finding let mot juste (a phrase employed by Flaubert meaning “the right word”). McPhee writes about using a dictionary — not a thesaurus — to find the right word. “At best, thesauruses are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste,” he says, Although…”If you use the dictionary after the thesaurus, the thesaurus will not hurt you.” (Whew!).  He notes that:

“The dictionary doesn’t let it go at [a list of synonyms]. It goes on to tell you the differences all the way down the line — how each listed word differs from all the others. Some dictionaries keep themselves trim by just listing synonyms and not going on to make distinctions. You want the first kind, in which you are not just getting a list of words; you are being told the differences in their hues… .”

Hmmm. I have a Concise OED, and it gives just a list of words. I could be convinced that I need a more exhaustive dictionary. I’m all for hues of meaning.

On the other hand, I find that in my work that the thesaurus serves me well, and that I most often rely on this etymology dictionary in preparation for drafting, and as I’m revising.

When drafting, I use etymology to dig deep into word roots of the phrases that come to me during free-writes. Last week, for example, the word “threat” presented itself in a free-write. With a thesaurus I found synonyms for “threat” including “portent.” I used an etymology dictionary to learn that “portent” is related to the words “stretch” and “extend.” That led me to some more language for the draft that includes stretching and leaning. I often find that an etymology dictionary will also help me find just the right word during revisions.

I say use whatever tools you can to find le mot juste. It’s always worth the search. (And P.S. here is a very handy online etymology dictionary).

patterns  I continue to make my way through Ellen Bryant Voight’s The Art of Syntax and I continue to love what I’m learning from it. One thing the author points out is that when it comes to language human beings are hungry for patterns, and that poetry is perhaps the best art form for employing language patterns (her words are: “And the art most attentive to pattern of every kind is poetry.”). She also discusses how breaking the pattern — or varying it slightly — can be a successful syntactical strategy. And speaking of patterns, here’s a famous old patterns poem.

“Dear Day”  When I say the words “Reading YM at the Pool, Age 12″ do you know what I mean? If you were twelve-ish in the early 80s, I suspect you might. I’ve been reading Catherine Pierce’s The Girls of Peculiar, and “Reading YM at the Pool, Age 12″ is one of many of her fantastic poems that evoke the experience of adolescent girlhood at a particular point in history. Oh, Reader, I love this book! I love that she writes about living in books with chums and jalopies (Nancy Drew, anyone?). I love that she’s written postcards back to herself: “Trust me when I tell you to take that trip to Aspen.” I love it when poets claim something as their own, and then go out and write all about it. Here’s a poem from the collection (sorry, the poem with the chums and the jalopies is, sadly, not available online) called “Dear Day.”

Friday, you scaly beast, may you be gentle to all. Happy weekend, and thanks for reading.