Writing Flexibility

I have been writing much more than I’ve been giving myself credit for.  The problem has been that I really want to write this poem brewing in my heart.  Apparently, she’s not quite ready to come to page.  When this happens I tend to think of myself as “not writing” and considered myself completely blocked.  This simply isn’t true.

I’ve been writing a lot for my new job.  While it is technical stuff; teaching manuals, prospectus for the year, introductions to curricula, etc., it IS creative writing.  I try to weave creativity and beauty into all of my writing.  This is especially helpful when writing for my job, which is a religious educator for a liberal church.

I’ve also been doing some blog pieces over at another blog I run.  These tend to be very creative, spiritual, and reflective.  Not only does this help by flexing my writing muscles, but it gives me a path to start putting pieces together for a poem to emerge later on.

Writing flexibility is important.  Even keeping a journal can help, as long as you are writing regularly, you are keeping those muscles strong.

 

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Lost & Found

28 days ago I packed up everything I own, put it into storage, and drove east into a new life. I’ve landed but somehow haven’t arrived. Today I sit on a screened patio looking out over a pool with palm trees in the landscape as rain beats down. Isaac making his presence known here in north central Florida. Even in this setting, I cannot write.

I am working with an idea for a poem. The kind of idea that could be as good as ‘Hellbender’ if I could just get some words on the page. I write a verse then delete it. It’s like I left my creativity in the Ozarks.

This happens occasionally to writers. Sudden moments when we cannot seem to write. I am remembering a writing exercise around this, which is to just write about what is happening. To begin and just let the pen (or keystrokes) continue into the absence of words.

collecting bones, leaning into the dusty decay of death
My sacrifice carved on my heart……

I want to write this poem. I cannot seem to get the words to come I am thinking in images which is probably good for the long haul process of THIS piece, if I can stick with it long enough to pen some words to the page. I now just list words, feelings, descriptions of what I am seeing. I also know part of the problem is writing about an unfolding rather than a particular place in time or theme.  ‘Hellbender’ had that same quality of writing about an unfolding.  I wove that poem like a spell and perhaps that is the problem here.  The magic of it has escaped me in my desire to have the finished product rather than see where the poem takes me.

Writing is full of twists and turns.  We weave together words for healing, for love, for truth-telling, for romance.  What we weave sometimes ensnare us, for good or ill, and takes us somewhere new and amazing.   In March a poem about the Ozarks brought me to Florida.  Now I sit here, wanting the unfolding because I am desperate to know what is next.

I Write

The absence of updating here has not meant the absence of writing.  In fact, I’ve been writing more than ever.  I’ve been writing and musing on heart-break, on breaking open, on letting go, and on moving on.  I’ve been writing cover letters, resumes, and articles.  I’ve been writing services, trance meditations, and my own journaling.  I’ve been writing poetry here and there.  The latest of which, I bring to you:

I write
Too late at night
When I should be sleeping.
I take my pen to page,
Scribble then begin
To see form
Where words connect
Life and spirit
And reality bends
At my will.

I write
Early in the morning
When I should be showering.
I sit at my keyboard
Clicking out the rhythm
Of morning song
Drifting through my window,
Carried by robins
And the scent of lilac.

I write
Mid-afternoon, after lunch,
When I should be working.
I fade into the white noise
Scratching out the scenes before me,
Like carvings on cave walls.
For others to interpret
And read meaning into
Everyday life.

I write
To meet myself.
Rising up above
What has happened to me.
I author my life,
Give sacrament to it,
And lay it on the altar.
This writing,
This life,
This holy work
It has become.

Voice

Finding the right voice for reading your poetry is important business.   I think of my favorite local poets, Mendy Knott and Leah Gould, both have excellent voice when they perform their work.  The voice for each of them, I’ve noticed, is unique to their performance.  When their poem begins, it’s noted in the tone, accent, and lilt of the voice they speak in.  This is not to say each piece they perform sounds the same.  The pieces seem to have their own flavor as well, but there is some consistency to the voice these poets deliver their work in.

I am still trying to find my performance voice.

I read, and read, and re-read the same poem again and again.  For me, part of the struggle is nerves.  No matter how much I practice delivering a piece or how confident I feel about it in my living room, when I get in front of the mic I lose the voice completely.  I think nerves have a lot to do with this.

While over the years I have developed some comfort with reading pieces in front of an audience, I am still very nervous about mics.  In part this comes from childhood stigmas around being dubbed “loud” by people with disapproving looks on their faces as they admonished me, “Why are you so loud?” or “shhh!”.  I have a pretty naturally loud voice and more so when I’m excited.  I also don’t have a lot of experience with mics.  I fumble with the stand if I am forced to adjust it on my own.  I never know quite how far away to hold my mouth.  I hear some people boom into the mic while others I can barely hear. I can’t seem to discover the formula for speaking clearly while not shouting unknowingly.

My nerves contribute to me rushing through my work.  This is never good.  When you rush through your work, people can’t fully digest your poem.  People want to hear every word.  You want them to hear every word too, otherwise you would have edited some of those words away by this point.

This summer I need to push myself to perform more work in public for the purpose of playing with and finding voice.  I am going to mention this to my writer’s group Friday night as well and hope to work with it some there too.  I’ve also started recording myself reading my poems in various styles.  I record once with a basic reading, give it a listen and then speed it up or slow it down for the next recording.  I just keep tinkering with it until I think I’ve improved it.

I am so proud of how my writing has developed in the last year or so.  I put a lot of effort into taking my talent to write and developing the skill to take it to the next level.  I will continue that development with my work as well, but it’s time to put some of that focus on my performance.  Voice is a good place to start.

 

NaPoWriMo Struggle – and a $300 prize

On day 12, NapoWriMo put forth the most ridiculous prompt yet. So much so, that I could not do it. I’ve written poems since then (that are too private for sharing here). So I will consider my day 12 taken care of in my 30/30 challenge.  I will be catching up on days 13-15 tomorrow.  I want to give those prompts more time than I’ve had for it today.

In other news, I am pleased to say I won first place in a local poetry contest.  This really blew my mind.  While I knew this piece was my strongest work, I still did not fully expect to win.  When the third place winner was announced and read her piece, which was quite good, I thought I must not have even placed!  Winning first place is always a big deal (I guess, having never done it before), but winning in a contest with writers of this caliber is really an honor.  The prize was $300 to be put toward furthering the winner’s creativity.  I have yet to decide if my prize money will be taking me to a writing conference or go toward funding a new project I have started.  I am so happy to have money to put toward either endeavor.

 

Keep the Original

Today I spent a good deal of time thinking about poetry.  What makes a poem hit you where you live?  How do we transform the simple everyday objects of our lives into exquisite works of art?

In my own process, the answer is simple.  Edit.

With every revision the poet has an opportunity to take something personally meaningful and turn the phrases to touch more hearts.  I started thinking about what I know of this process.  I survived for years without editing.  Resistant to striking anything, convinced I would lose some of the essence if I changed a single word.  Told early in life I was a “natural writer,”  it never occurred to me that discipline would only deepen the flavor natural talent brings to my work.  Much of my life I have been able to write anything; poems, short stories, lengthy essays, on short notice.  I skipped the “rough draft” process, except in classes where I was required to turn in a copy.  I thought my ability to write without revisions, still garnering A’s and compliments, put me ahead of the game.

When I met Mendy Knott,I received the authentic compliment, mixed with room to grow, I have come to expect from her.  Mendy loves to encourage writers, but she won’t bullshit you.  So after a reading one night when she told me I was a strong writer and I shot back with my questioning “really?” she closed in on what teachers and peers never had.  She mentioned editing.  I don’t recall the exact conversation but I remember walking away still feeling good about my work but open to this idea of editing.  I did not, however, take her advice for a few more years.

I had dubbed myself a “napkin poet.”  I wrote when the muse suddenly appeared, often driving down I-540 at upwards of 70mph or after a little too much coffee in the middle of the night.  Grabbing at whatever I happened to have on hand, I wrote most of my poetry on napkins, sometimes on my skin, and once in crayon on my dashboard.  I liked being a napkin poet.

It has only been the last 12-18 months I’ve been editing my work.  I thought about this change and the way my writing has strengthened, not just from editing but also the daily discipline of writing.  Much of my writing practice has developed around suggestions solicited from Mendy Knott, who I’ve come to think of as my writing mentor.  A few other tips and overheard statements from other writers have seeped in to my consciousness as well.  A collection of one liners, instructions, and reminders about what it means to show up to this work and to claim the space of being a writer.

With all this in mind, the following poem emerged.  While not all of these treasured tips can be attributed to Mendy, many of them can.  She has been the single most influence on me claiming my space as a writer, professionalizing it little by little, making friends with discipline, meeting my muse halfway, and being able to hear critiques of my work with eagerness.  I’ve titled this piece “Keep the Original.”  This taken from her repeated advice about revisions, always keep a copy of the original in case you cut a little too much.  This wisdom was what held my hand as I picked up my red pen for the first time.   Thanks Mendy.

Keep the Original

write what you know.
Then, add mystery,
step into strange.
listen to your friends’ suggestions,
but stick to your truth.
edit everything.
delete nothing.
sleep on it.
write; when you’re inspired,
because it’s time,
because you must.
Revise.
cut
strike out
nail down
extend metaphor
give detail.
read your work.
yes, out loud,
where others hear you.
devour poetry.
read it through,
then aloud.
digest it.
take it in.
then write.
Edit.
Review.
Revise.
show up everyday
ready to be inspired.
carry a small notebook at all times.
write on napkins when you must.
know poetry is ministry.
release yourself from what holds you back,
just show up.
call yourself a writer,
because you are.
shoulder the burden of the pen,
write a hard truth,
the poem you don’t want to write.
meet your muse halfway,
and be on time.
write the story of your people;
good, bad, and ugly.
poetry transforms.
sleep with poetry by the bed.
write fearlessly.
scribble it all down,
you’ll edit it anyway.
Always-
keep the original.

The Fire of Community

I wrote a short reading for Saint Brighid’s Day. This piece weaves together many aspects of Brighid – patron saint of healers, blacksmiths, poets, keeper of the sacred flame and sacred wells.

This morning I woke to find that the well of one of my sacred communities had been poisoned somehow.  There was a lot of hurt and discontent.  As I reflected on what was happening and the pain I felt at the idea that our community might be divided rather than united, I thought about the sacred fire.  Not the fires outside holy sites or kept in well tended hearths. No, I thought of bonfires.  Yes, a good old fashioned Arkansas bonfire complete with marshmallows on sticks.

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to go the kind of bonfires I am thinking of, then you know that people of all sorts of backgrounds show up and are welcome at the fire.  I recall a particular bonfire from my youth.  It was small town, Arkansas.  It had become well known that bonfires took place on the weekends at nearby fields owned by someone’s dad.  Anyone was welcome.  Now there were flaws, this was far from perfect.  The kid passing you a beer or a smoke might not be willing to talk to you at school come Monday.  Yes, there were basic teenage politics at play.  But at those fires…. people you never saw hanging out at school would sit around and tell jokes and stories and be friendly with one another.  The differences were set aside.

This got me thinking about metaphorical bonfires.  The communal fire that is tended and kept in each community.  The place within us that calls us to set  aside those differences long enough to connect, to share stories and perhaps a beer together, and without the teenage politics.   The gathering place of our hearts.  The following writing emerged  – a blessing from Brighid and a call back to the fire.

Light the fires for justice,
For the shadows cast on the wall,
Reflecting what we wanted to hide away in the corners or our minds.
Light the fires of the heart,
Let it burn bright,
A welcome hearth
To those in need of kindness, compassion, acceptance

Light the fires of truth
So we may know ourselves
And turn toward the well lit path
Light the communal fire
 Call together those seeking,those lost in joy or sorrow,
those who too want to kindle the flame of peace
Of hope
Of love

Wondering and Wandering into 2012

This poet seems to have wandered away for awhile.  My last blog post was this summer shortly after the trip to the National Poetry Slam in Boston, MA.  My apologies for the absence.  I’ve been a roller coaster called life.  

I have continued to write.  My writing has taken some twists and turns in the last year.  A year of dedicated writing practice every single day strengthened not only my writing but my character as well.  It’s easier to declare yourself a writer when you are actually writing!  As for the words themselves, last year I focused on slam, As well as writing short and succinct pieces, and on learning to write in different forms.  This year my writing intention shifts toward writing essays, articles, and even a book.  So once again, I must fully commit to this if I am going to meet my goal of having a manuscript for the book ready to go January 2013.  It’s a lofty goal.

I for one think goals should be reachable, but challenge you to really stretch in order to reach it.  This is a stretch; an entire book in a year.  It’s going to require to only the daily writing commitment from last year, but longer stretches of time for writing, discipline to write on a specific topic, and more editing.  It also means letting people read my work and help me edit for content and comprehension as well as grammar.  It means putting myself out there.

This is good.  Putting yourself “out there” is a sure fire way to toughen the skin so you are willing to submit those essays to magazines, to speak at new open mics, and to mail a manuscript to a publisher.  Every time I put myself out there, my writing improves and my resolve to “be a writer” strengthens.

So in 2012 this poet plans to stay on the move, with words coursing through my veins I’ll be traveling this year to San Francisco, the Gulf of Mexico, a sleepy art town in Ohio, and hopefully a trip to Asheville, North Carolina and Baltimore, MD.   With movement in my heart, I’ll sit quietly at my desk and write the story of my life, my travels, and my dreams.  What will you write this year?  Where will you go?

Resistance

I’ve been resistant to writing these past few days.  I kept thinking I needed to write something here, but then… didn’t.  I have written a little each day between the 3 blogs I maintain (yes really) and a poem every now and then.  I am back home now and hope to settle into my routine after the weekend.  Maybe I’ll come back with some July 4th inspired poems.  Yes, I think that sounds good.  Look for that on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Resistance is an old friend of mine.  She shows up everywhere it seems.  Most usually when it’s time to work out.  She shows up and says, don’t do that.. .it’s boring, you won’t accomplish anything, it’s a waste of time.  I see her again when I’m out shopping and she says, don’t resist buying that $7 coffee, you deserve that!  My friend resistance can be really charming.

Over the years I’ve gotten better at taming her.  I’ve learned that I can quiet her when she shows up to tell me to skip my daily meditation practice if I tell her we don’t have to do the full 20 minutes, just 5.  Some days we do 5, most of the time once I am 5 minutes in, it’s easy  to go on and do 20.  I do the same thing with writing and working out, she whines and I promise her we will only spend a few minutes on this.  It helps.

The trick, I know, is to just keep showing up.  Sit on the cushion, pick up the pen, put your feet on the treadmill.  So today I’m showing up to writing by simply writing this post, more of a note really.

What do you resist?  How do you commit and overcome your own resistance?

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night….

He approaches with caution but soon relaxes into conversation about the government versus the people.  And he’s the people.  5 weeks out of the pen on a possession charge from walking the bridge into South Carolina with 2 lbs on him, now he’s “across state lines possession with intent” –a criminal.

His name is David.  He exudes Southern boy charm while he talks.  Careful to keep his distance from me and my female companion, we are two women on the darker end of River street and he stays close to the nearby street light.   As we talk I learn more about him, he says he’s only been in trouble with the law once, the possession charge, and he is scrambling to find real work.  For now, he walks the river now selling roses made from palms that he climbed himself.  He shows me his cut up hands from the climb.  Tells me he does what needs doin’ to keep his room and board, taking trash out for the bars along the river for a few bucks at closing.

He is built and tattooed, but harmless.  I want to hug him because I see something so fragile in his eyes, so tender.  Instead I take two roses and slip him a twenty hoping it helps him with a roof tonight… there’s a storm comin’.

Almost as soon as we say it the Savannah sky breaks open with a loud crack and sheets of rain fall hard bouncing back up from the pavement soaking everyone instantly.  We part ways running for cover from the storm as lightning brightens the sky downtown.  I find shelter inside a little restaurant just as the tornado siren starts to blare.

The place is full of people, all soaking wet and buying nothing.  We stand around blocking the entrance and eating the free peanuts on the bar.  A group of women come in laughing and soon I’m gathered into their circle as if we are old friends.  These beautiful dark-skinned women don’t appear to be bothered by the detour into this place.  They carry on as if we are all at a club together.  They crack jokes about whether or not to move on down the road, one exclaiming she’s gonna go for it.  Another says, you can’t go out in this lightning!  Sure I can she says, if it’s my time it’s my time.  She smiles and we all laugh but she stays around and keeps eating peanuts.

Finally the rain lets up enough that we do make a run for it.  I race down the flooded streets to my car, winding in and out of alleys and past men sitting in dark entry ways to closed shops.  When I get to my car not an inch of me is dry.  I’m cold and delighted.  It feels like it’s storming in Savannah just for me.  I can’t quite explain this feeling but all along the drive it seems right to me that part of my experience here should include a sudden storm.

As I turn onto the street to go back to where I’m staying, I realize I can’t cross.  A tree has been split in 3 directions from the wind. At first I think lightning but it’s not blackened the way a lightning struck tree typically is.  I can feel it dying and I go over and put my hands on it.  It’s a giant oak.  Neighbors from the surrounding houses come out and tell stories about previous damages the tree has suffered.  One neighbor speculates the tree is at least 200 years old.  Staring at the massive trunk, I don’t doubt it.  I thank the Gods my car wasn’t parked here, it had been just hours earlier.

Inside I think more about River Street and the people I met there.  Martin, a painter from Haiti…a group of queer boys who somehow innately know I’m a lesbian and come invite me to join them at the queer bar…the guys who hit on me and when I tell them I play for the other team just smile and say, “that’s okay, do you share?”  The people here are flirty and bawdy tempered by Southern charm and manners – enough to know to leave plenty of space between their body and mine.  They love Savannah and seeing it through their eyes I love her more too.

I go to bed thinking about how I could live here under all this hanging moss tucked away next to the river, just minutes from the ocean.