friday roundup: you do not need to leave your room edition

img_8251

Here is what the walls of my study look like these days. Thank you, critical thesis.

Dear Reader, I keep starting blog posts like this: I had not intended to be away quite so long. It is still true. I’m just trying to keep all the balls up in the air: my thesis work, my editorial work, motherhood, keeping people (reasonably) well-fed and the bathrooms (reasonably) clean. Laundry (insert deer-in-the-headlights look here). And lest we forget: the poems.

[Confession: I am really good about not forgetting the poems. They are always my first priority, and I work on them every day before doing anything else. This may be a character flaw, but it’s the character flaw that has saved my life.]

At any rate, I’m here to share a few things this cold, snowy Friday.

“to let the words write the words”  One thing I want to share is this amazing essay, “Bewilderment,” by Fanny Howe. I’d printed it off a few weeks ago and finally sat down to read it. First a little background: up until several months ago, my process for writing  a poem was to free-write whatever came into my head, often something off a line by another poet, and often, amidst writing, returning to that line, and then to shave the free-write down or  mix it up or do whatever I needed to do to it to make it a poem. Lately, though, my process has undergone a big (and often, for me, bewildering) shift: Words and lines arrive from I know not where. I write them down. More words and lines arrive. I write them down. And so on until (sometimes) a poem is made. I’ve been thinking of it as the LISTEN & DICTATE process of writing poetry, a phrase which I came across in this interview.

But in this essay, Howe writes a description of her writing process which better describes my own. I never would have been able to articulate it—which is why we need the rock star poets of the world: so they can tell us what we’re doing—but it is exactly how my poems have been arriving and making themselves. Howe writes:

First I receive the impression of a time period as an experience of pure language, glimpses of actions, emotions and weathers. I jot down whatever comes through—in a rush of words. Then I begin to see what is being said and to see it as it unfolds, as if from afar and sometimes I actually stand at a distance from the words that are there. Spotting word-associations and what their sounds suggest and prove about the “point” of this emergent poem forces me to remove my body from the action; to let the words write the words. Letting the lines cohere on their own volition is crucial. Literally it is like watching someone else take form in the dark and I am weirdly disassociated from the action, an observer, a voyeur, though all the objects in the room, and the body, are familiar, are even “mine.”

An experience of pure language. To let the words write the words. Yes, please.

the poem wanders away from the demonstration  Since the election, there have been many calls to many different kinds of action. On social media, in articles, and elsewhere, I’ve read several outright imperatives and a few gentle suggestions that our poems must now be political. That poetry that does not engage in the public sphere and advocate for change is a useless endeavor.

I disagree. I think the act of making art is, itself, political. Roethke: “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.” Lyn Hejinian: the poet must “undertake the preservation of otherness.”

I also think that poems are the very opposite of tools. Which is not to say that a poem can’t be political and can’t become a rallying cry for a movement—we know poems can do this—but it is the poems themselves that decide what they will be. It is the poem’s will, not our own.

This essay at Lithub by Matthew Zapruder expresses and explores these ideas better than I have here. In it Zapruder argues that poems are an unreliable vehicle for advocacy; that:

The poem is by its nature and design easily distracted. It wanders away from the demonstration, the committee meeting, the courtroom, toward the lake or that intriguing, mysterious light over there. What is that light? It looks like something, I’m not sure what, I’m sorry to leave this very important conversation but I have to know.

He also argues:

The role of poetry in our time of crisis is the same as always: to preserve our minds and language, so we may be strong for whatever is to come. And also, to preserve the possibility of mutual understanding, not by arguing for it, but by demonstrating it.

I guess what I’m saying here, to myself as much as to any of you, is: keep writing your poems. If they are political, so be it. If they are about a pair of socks a friend knit for you, so be it. If they are about the moss growing on the garden bench despite the snow, so be it.

and in a departure from our usual Friday programming  I am not going to share a poem today. Not because there aren’t one thousand poems I could share, but because these words from Franz Kafka seem to belong with the other words I’ve written here today. And because, in a way, they are a little poem in and of themselves:

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

I’m planning to try a little something new here moving forward. Which is: smaller, more frequent posts. We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, I’m wishing you warmth, comfort, and poems, yours and others’.

friday roundup: all seamus, all the time edition

My well-loved copy of Seeing Things

My well-loved copy of Seeing Things

Reader. Oh my goodness, it’s a sad day. Seamus Heaney has died.

Strange, isn’t it, how one can feel true sadness at the death of someone one doesn’t even know?

Nobody at my house shares my grief.

Me: Oh no. Oh no. Seamus Heaney died.
Them: Who?
Me: (depressed sigh)

So I hope you’ll indulge me and let me share my grief here.

What to say of Seamus Heaney? I feel like, as Miss Emily D. is my poetry godmother, Seamus Heaney is my poetry godfather. He was one of the first living poets whose work I studied — or I should say, because this was years ago and I was just a baby poet, struggled through. And I mean struggled like read an re-read and re-re-read; looked things up (and this was before The Google was mainstream, so I mean I *really* looked things up). I mean struggled like wrote notes in the margin, underlined circled, question marked, crossed out notes in the margin and wrote new notes in the margin. I mean struggled like “cut my teeth upon.” Etc.

It was a joyful struggle that helped define my writing life.

I love his embrace of his origins, his tender treatment of the domestic, the swirl of the personal and political in his work. I love his use and re-use of the old stories — myth and folklore; history and sacred texts. And I love (and by love I mean LOVE) his crunching, grinding Anglo-Saxon diction.

If you’ve never read his work, his selected is a good place to start.

And to usher him along his path to the next realm, let’s read a few of his poems today. Here are three of my favorites:

**

Wedding Day

I am afraid.
Sound has stopped in the day
And the images reel over
And over. Why all those tears,

The wild grief on his face
Outside the taxi? The sap
Of mourning rises
In our waving guests.

You sing behind the tall cake
Like a deserted bride
Who persists, demented,
And goes through the ritual.

When I went to the Gents
There was a skewered heart
And a legend of love. Let me
Sleep on your breast to the airport.

*

A Pillowed Head

Matutinal. Mother-of-pearl
Summer come early. Slashed carmines
And washed milky blues.

To be first on the road,
Up with the ground-mists and pheasants.
To be older and grateful

That this time you too were half-grateful
The pangs had begun — prepared
And clear-headed, foreknowing

The trauma, entering on it
With full consent of the will.
(The first time, dismayed and arrayed

In your cut-off white cotton gown,
Your were more bride than earth-mother
Up on the stirrup-rigged bed,

Who were self-possessed now
to the point of a walk on the pier
Before you checked in.)

And then later on I half-fainted
When the little slapped palpable girl
Was handed to me; but as usual

Came to in two wide-open eyes
That had been dawned into farther
Than ever, and had outseen the last

Of all those mornings of waiting
When your domed brow was on long held silence
And the dawn chorus anything but.

*

Lustral Sonnet (from Glanmore Revisited)

Breaking and entering: from early on,
Words that thrilled me far more than they scared me —
And still did, when I came into my own
Masquerade as a man of property.
Even then, my first impulse was never
To double-bar a door or lock a gate;
And fitted blinds and curtains drawn over
Seemed far too self-protective and uptight.

But I scared myself when I re-entered here,
My own first breaker-in, with an instruction
To saw up the old bed-frame, since the stair
Was much too narrow for it. A bad action,
So Greek with consequence, so dangerous,
Only pure words and deeds secure the house.

**

Rest in peace, Seamus Heaney. And thank you.

true confessions: leftovers edition

mmm... meatloaf (photo credit)

mmm… meatloaf (photo credit)

I confess, I hate leftovers. Not in and of themselves, but because every time I declare a leftover night, we always end up with leftovers of the leftovers. I know you know what I’m talking about.

I confess, the only leftovers I like to have leftovers of are meatloaf sandwiches.

I confess, I once wrote a poem about leftover night, in which meatloaf makes an appearance. That poem recently came out in Grist Issue 6. I confess, I was thrilled to see a meatloaf/leftovers poem in print.

I confess, the poem, which is called “The Fall of Woman” is not really about leftovers, but more about (1) the fact that there are no longer as many female images of divinity as there were in ancient times, and (2) that women still have lots of (god-like?) power because of our role in raising children and tending the hearth. Disclaimer: Not that all power wielded by women derives from these roles, and also not that men don’t also raise children and tend hearths, but, y’know.

I confess, I am loving Christina Cook‘s poem “Summer Requiem” also in Grist 6, and poems by Sandy Longhorn and Helen Vitoria in the online companion, along with many others.

I confess, I have been terrible, terrible (I mean terrible!) about submissions this spring. I have been really good about giving TLC to the feverish and those recovering from surgery, but terrible about submissions. Still, I’m happy to have placed a handful of poems from the handful of submissions I did send out. I’m determined to do some submitting over the summer, and also to gear up for next fall’s submissions season. But…

…I confess, I think my focus for the summer will be revisions. Despite the craziness of the past several months, I’ve ended up with a reasonable stack of new work. These new poems need lots of TLC, though, and probably some major surgery (insert sound of chainsaw starting here).

I confess, I’m finally starting to accept and enjoy the fact that the creative life has its seasons — some time for new work, some time for refining what exists, some time for getting it out there in the world. And let’s not forget one of the most important seasons: composting. There may even be a season for doing all these things at once, but so far I haven’t encountered it… although, I confess, I live in hope.

I confess, my plans for a summer writing schedule have fallen flat thus far. But *technically* it’s not summer yet — so I still have hope for my early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise approach once school’s out.

I confess, I love summer. It makes me think of a very blue lake, and all kinds of fruit, and drinking diet cherry 7-up with my BFF on the town beach. It makes me think of camping as a kid, and (less dreamy-eyed, I admit) camping as an adult. It makes me think of long, lazy afternoons at the library and playing go-fish with my kids. I confess, I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.

friday roundup: learning from Virginia Woolf, wingbeats, and about those daffodils…

What would Dorothy Wordsworth do? (photo from wikimedia)

What would Dorothy Wordsworth do? (photo from wikimedia)

Reader, it’s Friday again. How does this happen? Just yesterday it was Monday, and now we’re only two days away from the next episode of Downton Abbey. Yes, the flitting of time works out well for us that way, doesn’t it? Here’s this week’s roundup:

learning from Virginia Woolf This week, I’ve been reading excerpts from the journals and letters of Virginia Woolf ( in this book). In a couple of places, she outlines her plan for work “for the next fortnight.” Oh, she says offhandedly in the entry for Thursday 14 May 1925, “I should consider my work list now. I think a little story, perhaps a review, this fortnight.” It struck me as I read this that a fortnight seems like an utterly sane period of time over which to plan. Whatever happened to the fortnight, anyway? Why has the week taken hold of us so? I may just give the fortnight a try in my writing and household planning — on the premise that it seems hard to get anything done in one week, but maybe if I had two weeks to focus on the same set of tasks I might get somewhere (I understand this is not 100% rationale, but that’s okay with me). I’ll let you know how it goes.

Here are a couple other things I’ve learned from Virginia Woolf: 1. That even very successful writers struggle with doubt. About her novel The Years, she wrote: “I think I anticipate considerable lukewarmness among the friendly reviewers — I suppose what I expect is that they say now Mrs. W. has written a long book all about nothing — respectful timidity… that this is the long drawn twaddle of a prim pudist bourgeois mind, & … that now no one can take Mrs. W. seriously again.” Um, Virginia? 2. That even very successful writers have times outside “the flow”: “I am not reeling it off, but sticking it down.” I pause here to sigh for all the “sticking-it-down” that’s been going on at my desk lately. 3. That a new problem can be a good thing: “A new problem… breaks fresh ground in one’s mind; prevents the regular ruts.” She was writing about how to employ the element of time in To the Lighthouse, but I think this is true in life as well as writing.

wingbeats  Last week on her blog, Diane Lockward wrote about working her way through Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry. I immediately ordered the book (I confess, there are times when I fall prey to Amazon.com and their doggone “one click ordering” #naughtypoet) and I want to shout out a big THANK YOU to Diane. This book has already paid for itself by giving me several new ways of working and extensions of some of my old methods. What I like about this book is that it not only has straight writing prompts, it also has exercises that look toward process and method rather than focusing on the production of a single, prompted poem. I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to shut me up about Wingbeats, so take this as fair warning.

about those daffodils… (caution: profanity ensues) One of my poet friends sent me a link to this poem by Jennifer Chang and, Reader, I cannot stop reading it. I am completely in love with this poem (despite its use of the word my BFF’s mother cannot abide in the first line, please forgive me, Mom W.). The poem appeared in The Nation (Feb. 7, 2011) but I can’t get the text on The Nation‘s website because I’m not a subscriber. I’ve linked to a tumblr site so you can read and relish this fierce, imaginative poem.

Happy Friday, happy weekend, and thanks for reading. Stay tuned next week for more “next big things” and who knows what else.

greetings from the kingdom of extra-ordinary time

the oak seems to be writing something... (wikimedia)

the oak tree seems to be writing something… (wikimedia)

“I couldn’t tell one song from another, / which bird said what or to whom or for what reason.”

Hello, Reader. These lines are from Marie Howe‘s poem “The World,” from her fantabulous book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. In liturgical parlance, “ordinary time” is made up of the times of year that aren’t associated with a particular festal season. For the ancient Greeks, we can think of “ordinary time” as chronos — the regular day-to-day passing of time (as opposed to kairos — time-out-of-time, or the appointed time).

Dorothy, we’re not in chronos anymore.

Or, here at the Wee, Small House, we’re not in ordinary time yet. Although it’s entirely possible that I’m clinging to the feeling of time-out-of-time that the Holidays bring out of sheer denial.

Still, I love these days of no schedule, no have-tos, practically dateless days. We’ve been puzzling (finished the first jigsaw puzzle, now moving on to the second), coloring (two collaborative renditions of the night sky so far), and reading: Shakespeare, The Borrowers, Sylvia Plath, more stories of polar expeditions (It’s possible this is becoming a bad habit. But I’m kind of fascinated by the extremes these men — and they were all men — endured on a volunteer basis). I’m also doing some heavy-duty Downton Abbey Season 3 prep. You know, menu planning (chocolate, chocolate and chocolate) and fine-tuning the guest list (Me, Myself and I. And no one else.).

And yes, I’ve been thinking about the year gone by and the year that’s just beginning. Besides living with the word tend, I’m thinking (without resolving) about what shape my writing life might take this year. And it feels almost subversive to say this, but I think I need to write less.

(OMG did she just say that?).

Here’s my problem: I have all these poems, and a project or two brewing. But then I just keep writing new poems and working on them, and then I don’t finish the projects. Also, I still aspire to the cottage industry of submissions that I wrote about here, but again — I keep writing new poems and working on them; no cottage industry.

And yet, don’t want to stop writing new poems because what if there’s a really important poem that’s about to take shape and, because I’m not writing new poems, I don’t write it!?

You see my dilemma.

Of course, I realize this is all about ebb and flow, and that art can emerge, and that anything too prescriptive such as a declaration that I Won’t Write Any New Poems Until I Get My Projects Done and My Cottage Industry Set Up is not helpful. Also not helpful is the idea that the well of poems will dry up. I know this. I know this! Deep down, I believe that what will help most is just to trust the flow. From here, from The Kingdom of Extra-Ordinary Time, it’s easy to believe that.

Next week, ordinary time will come knocking on my door and may demand some answers. And maybe I will scramble to come up with some, or the weak outline of some answers, anyway. Next week, back to kids in school and alarm clocks; back to mid-week wordlessness and the roundup on Fridays; back to submitting poems and keeping track of our T.P. supply (I’ve abdicated that responsibility to Husband this week; oh yes, I love The Kingdom of Extra-Ordinary Time, yes indeed I do).

Until then,I’ll just mull and float along in this peculiar tipping-time of the year where “the oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words” (that’s more from the Howe poem). I’m hoping to take some of this time-out-of time feeling with me into the Kingdom of Ordinary Time, because I think the human spirit needs that. And a writing life (or any creative life) needs that.

Here’s wishing you plenty of extra-ordinary time, too.

manic monday: the obstacle in the path becomes….. enormous, or, thoughts on writing every day

calendarium perpetuum

Reader, I’ve been wanting to place a caveat around this post, where in inspiring language, Hope Clark encouraged us to take a stand and do this writing thing: “no matter what, regardless of what others think, until you learn it better, every day, until you die.”

I have a little bone to pick with the “every day” part of that. Here’s what I do every day: brush my teeth, drink my coffee, feed my kids. Beyond that, all other activities are optional. I confess, I do not write every day. In fact, I have never written every day, nor do I think I will any time soon.

I think we can waste a lot of energy feeling guilty about not writing (or fill in the blanking from your life’s work) every day.

Now, if you have the time and inclination to write every day, I say go for it! But for most of us, our days are not that wide open. Not only that, I think some time away from the desk is good, in that it can help us to compost for a while — allowing ideas to shift and settle, get covered, and then uncovered again, become richer and more nutritive while they wait for us to pick them up and make something with them.

And then there are the bleak seasons during which life’s difficulties keep us away from writing for long stretches.

So, for me, the “every day” part of the writing gig is less about actually writing every day, and more about maintaining my commitment to the writing life every day. Ideally this happens most mornings when I do my morning reading and writing, But some days this means reading and studying, or submitting poems, or responding to a friend’s poem, but not doing any writing of my own. Some days unfold further afield from the act of writing, and claiming the writing life is only paying good attention, or repeating lines of a favorite poem, or re-visiting my schedule to make adjustments in support of writing time.

What I’m saying is you don’t have to write every day. You just have to be a writer every day. And every day will combine into whatever next thing you write.

Which reminds me of the snippet of Kay Ryan last Friday:

An artist friend of mine once gave me a great pencil sketch of a sink. She said it only took her about half an hour to draw. But it took years for everything to combine into that half hour.

So, if you’ve been waiting around for someone to let you off the hook of every day writing, consider yourself let off. Of course you need to spend time committed to your work and craft. You can’t be a writer if you never write. But I try myself, and I encourage you, to interpret “every day” broadly. As I often say to my po-friend, C-1: “It’s all the work.”

Okay, I feel better now. Here’s to every day writing, broadly interpreted and applied. Hope your week is off to a good start!

what I learned in the high desert, and… some other stuff

Reader have you ever read The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza? It’s so great. As you might imagine, it’s a retelling of the classic Little Red Hen story. The cat plays the saxophone, the duck wears a swim cap, and the dog — well, as in real life, you’re never quite sure what the dog’s story is. The little red hen is always going to the store for pizza supplies “and… some other stuff.” But I digress.

I’m here to tell you about what I learned in the high desert. But first, let’s do a little wordless wednesday on Thursday:

library lunch hour

I spent yesterday in my favorite sunny corner of the library, trying to draft a poem. It was painful, but some days are like that. At lunchtime I went outside to gulp down a sandwich and some Emily — some solace in that. But I digress again.

So, a few weeks ago I went on my first-ever writing retreat (or conference? I’m not sure what to call it). It was in the high desert of New Mexico, where I’d never been before. Let me begin by confessing that I’m a nervous traveler. Call me crazy, but t just doesn’t seem right to me for human beings to be flying around 6 miles above the surface of the earth in a metal capsule. Every time I go on a trip (which is almost never) I’m always making Husband promise he will remarry if I die in a plane crash. I send important info — my passwords, a list of people who should know I died, funeral plans, letters to my children — to a dear friend, just in case. Yeah, I’m neurotic. But in the end I always go, believing it better to be deathly afraid six miles above the surface of the earth than to stay home out of fear.

So, I made it — wonder of wonders. I brought with me several stacks of poems, a small collection of rocks to stack in a tiny cairn at my bedside, photos of my family, and the good luck charms given me by my po-friends, C-1 and C-2. There was no cell phone service in the high desert, and I learned how absolutely blissful that was. There were about 20 other poets — my tribe! — in the high desert, and I learned how absolutely blissful that was, too. Eating food that was not prepared by me rounded out the triumvirate of bliss :). And speaking of bliss, here is the view out my retreat center window:

los Sangre de Cristos

I’ve been looking over my notes from the retreat/conference trying to think about what to share — I learned so much it would take a month to write it all down. I think the most important things I learned were  things I’d already learned, re-learned, and re-re-learned — but to hear them come out of the mouths of well-known poets and editors gave these insights new weight. These were insights I file under the label “writing life” or even just “life,” and here they are:

  • Follow your bliss (I believe Joseph Campbell coined this phrase?) Everyone in the room had done and tried other things. Many confessed to trying to leave the writing life altogether, but at some point had a kairos moment of “I must do this.” Whatever it is you must do — yeah, do it.
  • “At a certain point, you have to have the courage to believe you’re doing (the work) and not rely on the permissions of others.” This is a quote from one of the Very Famous Poets who taught at the retreat. It made me think of the time a former professor of mine asked me if I was planning on going to AWP. I was so surprised that she would think I was going — I was just a baby poet then. But I realized at that moment that no one was going to randomly lay the mantle of Poet around my shoulders, that if I were going to be a Poet, it would be because I did the work, and owned the life. So, whatever you must do, don’t wait for someone to tell you, “Now’s the time.”
  • Pay attention to how your own work is telling you about new ways of working. Pay attention to the hints at which direction your work wants to go next. Another VFP quote. It dovetails nicely with the obstacle in the path becoming the path, don’t you think? And it’s another great intersection of the writing life and any intentional life — valuable advice either way.
  • Don’t worry about what’s in fashion. Do what you do, and do it well. This is the advice we’ve all been getting and giving since middle school: Be yourself. Be yourself in your life, and be yourself on the page even if it’s not the way the Cool Kids do it. The Cool Kids can’t write your poems. You can.

So that’s it for now. I did also latch on (like a dog on a bone) to some good craft tips and submissions tips, which I’ll share in future posts. For now, can we get the last of the last organdization thing out of the way? That is, my master list of electronic files? This file structure is something I would’ve given my left arm for 10 years ago when I first committed to the writing life in a more serious way. But maybe we all earn our file structures by doing the work? Still, if this is helpful to anyone, I’d like to share it, so here it is along with some spilled coffee, notes to self, and other marginalia:

My basic file structure.

Okay, so now I’m very relieved to be done with organdization for a while. But one more thing before I go: Don’t think I’m always completely organdized. Piles form on my desk, then grow, then threaten to topple. Chaos often reigns. But, it’s good to have a system in place to fall back on when I reach my disorgandization threshold. Everything in moderation.

See you back here tomorrow for the roundup, and thanks for reading.

S.O.S. week 6 update: in which we have located the devil

Reader, it was a whirlwind, whiz-bang weekend, but here I am back at my desk and I’d like to inform you that we have located the devil. And the devil is — you guessed it — in the details.

Last week was week 6 of the Summer of Submissions. To review, we have created mini-manuscripts, done lots of legwork, adjusted our expectations, gone with the flow/given credit, formed new habits, and respected the tides. For week 6, I did meet my (inner critic whispers: meager) goal of two submissions, and I had good news from a few journals: acceptances. </celebrate>Happy dance!</celebrate>

Which also means withdrawing the accepted poems from other journals. Which led to late night searches for the word ‘withdraw’ on several journals’ websites. Which led, in a few cases, to making a best guess because withdrawals weren’t addressed on the website. All of which led, in turn, to updating duotrope and also updating my submissions binder. Et cetera.

I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that even my new and improved system for tracking submissions feels a bit unwieldy. Perhaps it’s the nature of the beast?

And, aside from keeping track of things, there are the other details of polishing and perfecting a submission, and trying to sound like I know what I’m doing when corresponding with editors. True confessions:

1. I confess, despite checking and double-checking and triple-checking, I sent out a sub that had a typo in it. Luckily, I noticed it almost right away (during the quadruple-check), and luckily I have a bit of a working relationship with the editor, so I fixed it and sent a mea culpa and an updated file.

2. I confess, I had two poems accepted from a series of four object poems, and I’m not sure they match. One is the first poem in the series and is in the infinitive voice; the other is the last poem of the series and is in the imperative. This works in a series, right, because you see all four poems and the evolution of the voice from one to another. But will it work when the first and last poems of the series, in different voices, are on the page together? Although I’m perfectly happy to have the both published as is, I wish I would’ve considered this prior to submitting.

3. I confess, I think I got the name of a journal a teeny bit wrong in some of the correspondence re: withdrawals. I think I said “The X Journal” instead of “X, the Journal.” So embarrassing! It was late at night. I was bleary-eyed and suffering from the particular brand of exhaustion associated with parenthood. And yet. And yet. Many poets are doing the same: working on their writing early mornings and late nights. And I do so want to be perfect!

So, the rattletrap car of my submissions process continues on down the road, imperfect, but with a clear goal of getting somewhere. I improvise. I patch and mend along the way. I declare to the universe, I am not perfect. I celebrate small victories and forgive myself small goofs.

I carry on.

P.S. If there are young children in your life, you simply must read Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root to them. I swear by my razzleberry dazzleberry snazzleberry fizz that you’ll all love it.

today I hate all my poems

My desk on a quieter day, lest I forget.

Today I spent a few hours looking at the stack — you know, the stack that big-girl poets call their “body of work.” I’m sticking with “the stack” for now because today I hate all my poems.

Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’m not writing this to seek reassurance, or because Spiteful Gillian has performed a hostile takeover, or even because I think they’re all rotten poems. I know they’re not. It’s just today, I hate them.

Some days you hate all your clothes. Some days you hate all the old, reliable dishes you cook for dinner. Some days you hate all your kids (Well, as I often say to them, although not about them, “Hate is a really strong word.” But you get my meaning.). Some days you hate all your footwear options. Some days you hate the cupboard pulls you chose for your kitchen. Some days you just can’t stand the hardy perennials you planted last year. It’s a form of cabin fever, I think. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that.

I’ve learned that these days of hating all my poems come and go — just part of life, and of a creative life. I think it was my excellent friend, The Poet A.O.D., who said of her chapbook, “I even still like a couple of the poems!” Mercifully, these days of hating all my poems are quite infrequent. They, too, are a form of cabin fever. I’ve been working with, and working on, these poems for several years, or for several months, or for several versions at the barest minimum. They’re starting to really bug me. I need some space.

They need some time in the resting drawer. I will place them there after I finish this post. I pledge to leave them there for at least 48 hours, no peeking. Maybe I will leave them there even longer if I still hate them in 48 hours. I will read some things that are wildly different from my own work. I will take a walk or two. I will try not to utter — or even think — the words/phrases “tercets,” “rhetorical structure,” or “Maybe I need to cram it into a form.”

One morning soon, I will wake up no longer a poem-hater. Then I’ll know I’m ready to get back at it, hammer and tweak, redraft, whatever it’s going to take.

What do you do when you hate all your poems/clothes/recipes/kids/paintings/shoes/hardy perennials/etc.? Does taking a break help (well, I guess it’s a little tough to take a break from all your clothes if you need to leave the house, isn’t it?)? I’ll let you know how my strategies work for me this time around.

In the meantime, Dear poems, I hate you, I really, really hate you! 🙂

how to cook like a poet

beans and rice and rice and beans

Okay, okay, maybe I’m stretching the poetry angle here a bit. But the idea for this post came out of a Facebook conversation yesterday with fellow poets and parents after I posted this as my status:

Discovered last week that even if I don’t try to write, and just do mom/house stuff all the time I still can’t get it all done. Very freeing! The fantasy evaporates! Ever onward with my new motto: write first, do the “musts,” lower standards for all else.

There were several commiserating and hilarious comments from other poets and parents (some of which included socks, applesauce, legal pads, and fervent declarations of belief), and then the wise and excellent Molly Fisk weighed in with this:

Most women’s daily lists have three days-worth of tasks on them… Write. Feed your family real food. The rest is pretty much up in the air on a rotating basis…

Having read that, I decided to revise my motto. Motto 2.0: “Write. Feed your family real food. The rest is pretty much up in the air on a rotating basis.”

See, the thing is, the “real food” part of Motto 2.0 is actually really important to me. Sometimes I feel like a throwback, but I think one of my crucial jobs as a parent is to feed my kids healthy food and, of course, to teach them how to plan and prepare healthy meals so they know how to do it someday for their own families. I confess, I have an apron and wear it every day. I confess, I made Sister’s birthday cupcakes, which seemed to almost horrify some of the other parents. Them: “You cook? Do you cook every day? How did you learn to cook?” Me: “mumblingsomethingaboutbeingfromthemidwest.”

But back to cooking like a poet. One things parents and poets often have in common is that money can be scarce. Don’t get me wrong, our family is very fortunate, especially in this economy, to have a good income that covers all of our necessities and sometimes a few extras. Still, we do everything we can to live frugally, and one way to live frugally is to cook frugally (think “concisely”), but with care and attention. You know, like a poet. So, here’s my handy-dandy guide on how to cook like a poet:

1. eat seasonally  I grew up in Michigan where fruits and veggies roll out of the fields from May to October. We marked the year by what was in season: first asparagus, then strawberries in June, moving on through cherries mid-July, blueberries in time for my mom’s birthday, then the bounty of August: peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn, cukes, plums and apricots, the peaches, the earliest apples. Well, you get the idea. Here’s the thing: eating what’s in season costs less. When strawberries are $5.99 a carton, it’s because they’re out of season, and they taste like cardboard anyway. When they’re $5.99 for half-a-flat, they’re in season and completely delish. You can save lots of money and eat better produce by eating what’s in season.

2. plan ahead  I know, I know, this is the worst part. You actually have to sit down and figure out what you’re going to feed everyone all week. I hate it, too. But what I’ve found is that if I plan, I spend less money at the store and the whole week goes more smoothly. I’ve found it convenient to have a standard menu starting place, for example:

Monday – pasta
Tuesday – chicken
Wednesday – hearty soup, green salad, bread
Thursday – leftovers if any; if not, something vegetarian
Friday – pizza (often ordered in if budget allows)
Saturday – scrounge (my favorite night!)
Sunday – something on the grill

Having this backbone helps me fill in the week with recipes I know well (helpful hint: well-known recipes go most quickly, therefore maximizing your writing time!).

Also in the planning ahead department are two corollaries (say that the British way — it’s more fun): a. double and freeze: That’s right, make a double batch of spaghetti sauce and freeze half for next time. And b. parallel process: If your’re cooking on Monday night, prep Tuesday’s dinner right alongside. Both corollaries get you — you guessed it — more writing time! I’ll often start three meals on Monday afternoon. I figure I might as well cook while I’m cooking and free up some time later in the week. Not only that, but I find that if I cook a couple of nights a week, I very often have leftovers for later in the week. Oh, look, there’s another corollary: Cooking like a poet definitely involves serving c. leftovers whenever possible.

3. cook it yourself I know, I’m sorry, I sound like such a bore. Plan ahead. Double and freeze. Cook it yourself. But it really is cheaper and healthier. Of course, there are nights for everyone when cooking it yourself just won’t work. But if you can get into a routine of cooking it yourself most of the time, it becomes a habit and doesn’t (usually) seem hard anymore, unless you have children under the age of 3, in which case getting any meal on the table is nothing short of a miracle. And don’t forget to involve all members of the household in cooking it yourself, once they’re of an age when they’re more help than hindrance in the kitchen. This seems to be around ages 7 to 9, depending on the child.

4. one word: legumes  Legumes, such as beans and lentils, are very nourishing, very healthy, and very cheap. My older brother’s favorite money-saving advice is, “Beans and rice and rice and beans!” You can buy a bag of dry beans for a dollar. A little time and effort and you’ve got a meal for 11 cents a serving (I actually did this calculation once on the black beans and rice I make every week or two; it really did cost 11 cents a serving). We eat a lot of legumes in this family: lentils and pasta, beans and rice, lentil soup, navy bean soup, etc. They’re good, good for you, and nice on the budget.

5. two words: hot cereal  Do you want to know why your mother made you eat oatmeal on those cold winter mornings? Do you think it was because she wanted  you to have a nice, warm meal in your belly before you faced the blast of winter wind outside the door? Well, I have news for you: She made you eat oatmeal because she was broke! Hot cereal is one-bazillion times cheaper than cold cereal. It also allows you to determine how much sugar goes in the cereal bowl (unless you have a child like my middle child who is a sugar stealth bomber). We eat cold cereal, too, on days when there’s no time for anything else. But folding hot cereal into your breakfast rotation is a money saver. And it’s really yummy, especially with brown sugar and cream. Don’t skimp on the cream. One must sustain oneself, you know.

6. no guilt  I know you’ve been waiting for this one. We all do our best. Sometimes our best is homemade lentil soup, a loaf of bread, and a green salad. Sometimes it’s a peanut butter sandwich on paper plates. Sometimes we buy local, organic produce, sometimes we grab whatever’s closest and easiest, organic-orgshmanic. Food is such a gift, and having enough of it is such a gift. I try to avoid guilt around food — it tarnishes the sheen on the blessing.

*BONUS* One side benefit to cooking like a poet if you actually are a poet, is that, at least for me, working and dwelling in one’s body can loosen thoughts, words, and ideas from the depths of the subconscious. I am often seen dashing toward my desk in my apron, one hand covered in a potholder, and the pasta timer ringing, as I furiously scribble down a scrap of a poem or an idea for something I’m working on. Agatha Christie said: “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” She just might be right.

Bon apetit, Reader! And don’t forget:

Motto 2.0