Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Do You End a Poem?

One of my 4th grade students asked this question. I told him it was a great question with lots of possible answers. I posed to question to my friends on Facebook. Here are some of their responses. More here.

“With a whimper, not a bang.” -Shawnte Orion

“With some concrete truth that ties together any imagery in your poem.” -Catherine Conley

“You don’t.” -Charles Kruger

“Without a bow.” -Kelly Cressio-Moeller

“I don't know if I have a concrete response. It's sort of like asking, How do you know that it’s love?... I don't think I've ever thought, oh it’s time to end this poem. I just know that it is. The ending usually presents itself…and I just know…” -Janette Schafer

“When it feels like you have nothing more left to say.” -Nandini Dhar

“With a line that leaves the reader with a sense of wonder, emotion, or satisfaction.” -Donna Vorreyer

“By beginning the next one.” -Adam Atkinson

“In my experience, the best ending in my poetry is the line before the last line.” -Ronnie K. Stephens

“With a good strong word. One syllable if possible. On a strong stress.” -Jennifer Swanton

“…let the last line leave an impression in the reader's mind. A strong image or emotion.” -Rie Sheridan Rose

“Write past the last line. Then go back and find the real last line later.” -Martha Pauline

“Close the door or leave it a tad bit open! One of those. Never leave it all the way open.” -Teresa Petro

Friday, October 25, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Lisa Mangini

poet, Lisa Mangini
Lisa Mangini holds an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University, where she also teaches. She is the Founding Editor of Paper Nautilus, and the winner of the 2011 Connecticut Poetry Prize.  Her poetry collection, Bird Watching at the End of the World, is forthcoming from Cherry Grove in October 2014.

Laura Davis: How do you being writing? Do you just dive in? Warm-up exercise? Daydreaming? Any strange rituals involving smelling a drawer of fruit? 

Lisa Mangini: Daydreaming is essential to my writing, and I think, for me, that’s where all writing really begins. I’m a veteran of long commutes and spend a lot of time in the car, so just about all of my first kernels and leads for ideas are generated from that particular kind of mind wandering that occurs while driving a familiar route. And I have to sit and stew on ideas for a while – sometimes a few days, sometimes a month – before I even begin drafting them out. That thinking-it-over period gives me the opportunity to figure out how to turn a fleeting idea into something more substantial.

LD: What writing implement do you wield? 

LM: Handwritten with a pen is my first choice, preferably with a legal pad, since those spiral-bound books are less comfortable for writing left-handed. This process is tedious, especially for prose, but I find using a computer too distracting: the temptation of the internet, and all the red and green squiggles under words, backspacing and re-writing until I walk away with two lines after a few hours. Longhand helps shut out that inner-critic so I can actually get something done.

LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Coffee on an IV drip? 

LM: While writing is always work (research to make some details more authentic, digging up emotional baggage,  picking apart that flat ending until it works), I try to treat the act itself as an indulgence. Life post-MFA means I have no consequences if I’m not producing new work, and with teaching, running a small press, and a day job, I don’t have as much time to spend on my own writing anymore. Carving out an hour or two a week to write now falls in the same category as a long bath or watching bad TV; it becomes the thing I do to reward myself for getting through all those other things that needed to be done.

LD: Do you believe in “writer’s block?” 

LM: In a way, yes, I do. I don’t believe in waiting for some “muse” to appear either, but I do think it’s easy to get burned out when there’s this expectation that one must be inspired all the time. There have been times that I wanted to write, set aside time to write, and found I really didn't have anything to say. Like I mentioned, all writing is work, but I don’t ever want to cross into that territory where it becomes a chore. If I’m truly tapped out, I spend that time reading instead, which eventually opens me up to new ideas or triggers something. If it takes longer than a few weeks to generate anything, it usually means that the block is me, getting in my own way with anxieties or fear about the anticipated quality of the new work – in which case I freewrite really badly until it passes.

LD: Beverage of choice? 

LM: Iced coffee, milk, no sugar. Sometimes with vodka.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Writer Michelle Auerbach

writer, Michelle Auerbach
Michelle Auerbach is the author of The Third Kind of Horse (2013 Beatdom Books). Her writing has appeared in (among other places) The New York Times, The Guardian, The Denver Quarterly, Chelsea Magazine, Bombay Gin, and the literary anthologies The Veil (UC Berkley Press), Uncontained Baksun Books, and You: An Anthology of Essays in the Second Person (Welcome Table Press). She is the winner of the 2011 Northern Colorado Fiction Prize. She is an editor at Instance Press and can be found online here.

Laura Davis: What’s the strangest object you've ever used to write a poem or a story with and/or upon?

Michelle Auerbach: Recently, like almost two years ago, I was falling in love. I’m not a teenager, in fact I am the parent of three teenagers, but like anything else related to the birds and the bees, I became a texting addict. I was sitting down at my desk in my study, because I had the idea to write a poem about Midas for a series I was working on with characters drawn from mythology - I could relate to them because they were experiencing what I was, just a while ago. So, I was at my desk, with my phone next to me waiting to hear from him. I was fiddling with lines, putting in the ones I liked and trying to build on them. And then he texted. And his text was perfect for the line I needed so I added it in. I kept going, texting and writing and texting and writing and I found that what he was sending me was exactly what I needed to add into the poem. I am used to working off lines from books, overheard conversations, or from art that moves me, but never from texts or IM’s. The poem ended up to be one of my favorites, partly because I married the guy, but partly because Midas and his texts and my needs all came together to make something that really, really was how I felt. It was not emotion recollected in tranquility, but texting recollected in poetry.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?

MA: I never finish anything. I want to edit things that are already in print. I want to edit my novel, which has been out for almost six months. I open the book and start reading aloud and I want to change it, like, "Oh, this would be much better if . . ." I heard that some painter had to be dragged out of a museum before he altered one of his paintings that the museum owned. That’s me. If I don’t send this in soon, I will edit it a tenth time.

LD: How long have you been writing? What’s the first thing you remember feeling good about having written?

MA: I have been writing since Fourth Grade. I started keeping a journal and I wrote a book of poetry for my teacher called “A Smile Spreads A Mile With Poetry.” I kept writing every single day until I was 42. Then my ex-boyfriend, who was also a writer and should have known better, read my journal. I stopped. The violation was so extreme that I now have journaling PTSD. It took me three years to read the journal he had read, and to come to terms with what he had done. But those three years trained me to do something else, not journal. I think the daily practice was so good for me, so cathartic, so useful in learning to develop voice and pacing, and for figuring out how to get emotion on the page, and for learning to write in character, me or not me, that I would call it the world’s greatest apprenticeship.

LD: Do you believe in “writer’s block”?

MA: I do not believe in writer’s block. I believe in the insidiousness of fear and the angry reds and the mean blues when you doubt the veracity or importance of what you have to say. Or at least I do. But, my college professor, who was my hero, made me read Hemmingway’s journalism and instilled in me a belief that writing was a job, that you do every day, not just when inspired, and that some or all of it could be crap and life would go on. Try again the next day. It really helps when the self-critical voices start up to know I have to do it anyway.

LD: What writing implement do you wield?

MA: I am a stationary and pen freak. I am obsessed with what everyone uses to write. I am obsessed even with various computer programs. A lawyer friend told me about a program she uses to plot out cases – it tracks the characters and the lines of argument and I was sure I could use it to plot a novel. I love fountain pens and Clairfontaine notebooks that I buy in Paris. That sounds really snobby, but it is true. If you go to France, please bring me a cheap drugstore fountain pen and any kind of Clairfontaine notebook. You can get them in Monoprix, if you are looking. I learned this when I took a workshop with Natalie Goldberg in the 90s and she said to find a pen and paper that moved fast. That was my vroom vroom combo.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

LitShare: SF LitCrawl, Harry Potter plays Ginsberg, and one kick-ass collaborative poem

Donna Vorreyer mixes it up with a collective poem inspired by the Submission Bombers.

Here's the map for this Saturday's LitCrawl. Holy shit, I want to go to everything.

The Southeast review offers a Writing Regimen program for 30 days at only 15 smackers. You get lots of stuff too, like prompts, podcasts, quotes, reading assignments, and other goodies to inspire you to write a shit-ton of new work.

Daniel Radcliffe is portraying Allen Ginsberg in the movie Kill Your Darlings, also staring Michael C. Hall. I want to see this movie 100 times already.


*Got some literary news to share? Send it via Twitter or G+ and/or use the #litshare tag!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Writer Alicia Hoffman

poet Alicia Hoffman
Raised primarily in Pennsylvania, Alicia Hoffman now lives, writes and teaches in Rochester, New York. An MFA candidate at the Rainier Writer’s Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, her poems have been published in journals such as Redactions: Poetry and Poetics, Tar River Poetry, Poets/Artists, Red Wheelbarrow, A-Minor Magazine, SOFTBLOW, elimae, decomP, and elsewhere. She is the author of Like Stardust in the Peat Moss (Aldrich Press, 2013).

Laura Davis: What color is your writing process? Do explain. 

Alicia Hoffman: I would say deep ocean blue. When I write I attempt a dive into water. I try to immerse myself in the temperature of the poem. Granted, sometimes I am knocked by the waves of distraction, coughing on the impediment of time or my own imaginary walls that block that ocean of imagination. I hope I don’t sound too cheesy, but when I think of the color of the writing process, I am thinking of diving down through all the gradations of blue.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem? 

AH: This is a great question and one I always struggle with. I immediately think of Valery, who said “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”. And I think of what one of my writing mentor’s, David Biespiel, once said, that we are always writing different versions of the same poem. That, in essence, when we discard one, or “finish” one (though they are never, truly, finished), we move onto the next poem or story- unknowingly writing out of the same compulsion that brought us to the first. I think there is truth to this. And I also think there comes a time when I just have to let the poem go. That, maybe, I needed to write that poem, in all its imperfection, in order to move on to one that may reach farther and ring more true. It’s all a process. And I am still learning to accept this process, because it is a difficult thing to learn. That maybe we can’t work on the writing till it’s perfect. That perhaps its imperfection is part of what makes it sing.

Hoffman's writing space
LD: How long have you been writing? What’s the first thing you remember feeling good about having written?

AH: I was reading long before I was writing, and then I was writing long before I was writing anything but angst-ridden journal scribbles. I had it bad. It wasn't till I got to college that I realized people could actually study poetry. And not just study poetry, but study the actual craft of writing poetry. I still don’t know if I've written a poem that I feel forever good about, but I have written some that I feel good about for what they are. It was probably sometime after graduate school – a poem that got published in an actual journal. I felt validated then. There is something about having some stranger enjoy what one says that makes us feel less disconnected to the world. I am constantly second-guessing my own writing. I admit. I usually feel real good about having written something, anything, at first glance. Then, when I wake in the morning and revisit the same poem, it’s a bit more distant, and I begin to scrutinize. I then go deeper into that scrutinizing until I can’t any longer. Sometimes I bury it, deep in those word files, knowing it won’t last, and other times I sense I can’t go further but yet it feels somewhat complete and I send it out into the world. Then, I again begin to massage that impulse that yearns to withstand the test of time.

LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Coffee on an IV drip?
AH: Wine. But seriously, I think sometimes writing is like an itch that needs to get scratched, a nagging at the back of the brain. For me, it is a compulsion. When I go long spurts without writing, I feel something akin to guilt. It’s a self-inflicted guilt. But it is also, for me, a welling forth of feeling. Physically, I don’t know if I could ever not write. I think I would become a different person. A lesser person. I feel lighter after writing. More buoyant. Better. And if that’s all it brings me, so be it. I write to honor myself and the world.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence?

AH: Utter silence.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

LitShare: Hallowed Cows, Hybrid Notebooks, and Why Pittsburgh Rules

me reading at the CPITS Symposium,
photo by Mareen Hurley
New online lit mag, Cease Cows, is having a flash fiction contest. It has a theme of "Hallowed" or just "Hallow". $5 for one piece, $10 for three.

Check out the Periodic table of storytelling.

Pittsburgh, PA makes the list of 20 Great American Cities for Writers. -via Flavorwire.

Moleskine and the online note compiling platform Evernote are collaborating on a weird hybrid sketch book that uploads your sketches to your Evernote account. Cool and weird. The future is now.

Sundress Publications is having a sale: any two books for $20! I suggest Donna Vorreyer's A House of Many Windows.

Lastly, I was contacted by a poet recently who wanted to join Submission Bombers and do the writing process interview. His poetry is pretty freaking amazing. Check out these words over at ditch poetry. I also recommend just Googling D.M. Aderibigbe.


*Got some literary news to share? Send it via Twitter or G+ and/or use the #litshare tag!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Submission Bombers Are Seeking Publishers for 2013

The Submission Bombers are currently seeking editors of literary publications that want to collaborate. Here's a little about what we do:

The Submission Bombers are a group of 800+ writers who want our (often marginalized) voices to be heard. Through online events called "bombings," group members are encouraged to submit to a collaborating journal. Our goal is to take large-scale action that will bring about the change we want to see within literary publishing. 

A publications must be either 1) one year old with one issue published or 2) less than a year old with two or more issues published. Available upcoming time slots are listed below and are FCFS. If you're interested in setting up a bombing, please click here to email me with your top 3 preferred time slots.

Oct 21 – Nov 1
Nov 4 – 15
Nov 11 – 22
Nov 18 – 29
Dec 2 – 13
Dec 9 – 20
Dec 16 - 27
Dec 23 - 31

Additionally, 2014 is wide open for bombings. New events start each Monday beginning mid-January. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Writer Matt Pasca

poet Matt Pasca
An award-winning high school English teacher, Matt Pasca’s poetry has appeared in over a dozen journals, including Paterson Literary Review, Georgetown Review and Weave Magazine, as well as nine print anthologies. His first book, A Thousand Doors (2011, JB Stillwater), was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

Laura Davis: What color is your writing process? Do explain.

Matt Pasca: Great question. My writing process most resembles the lavender of summer twilight – that liminal haze between the beating pulse of action/community and surrender to stillness and the songs of insects. There is just enough light to see, and all the richness of experience seeps into the cracks of consciousness. So much discovery waits in that purple runway of goodbye, the letting go of a day, where one’s mind and heart hunker down in wordless privacy. My writing starts when I walk through the door and find them locked in embrace.

LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Coffee on an IV drip?

MP: In rare moments of unplanned or untaken time (i.e., when not full-time teaching, tutoring, parenting, husbanding, exercising, cooking, cleaning, grading, planning, promoting, gigging or speaking) I go straight to and punch the number of writing projects I have going at the time into the website’s number randomizer. It seems absurd, I know, but I’m serious.

For example, the website might spit the number 6 at me, which corresponds to number 6 on a list I keep that might look like this:  1) revise new rough poem, 2) type in work from journal, 3) freewrite in journal, 4) revise almost finished piece, 5) clean up manuscript, 6) work on memoir and 7) fragment play. Like most adults, I make thousands of tiny decisions a day at work and at home. In my opinion, a tired and decision-weary mind is not fit to deal properly with the boon of unplanned time, likely as it is to squander such precious moments trolling Facebook or watching talking heads hurl uninformed opinions at each other. For me, a randomizer is a benevolent taskmaster making me choose between many children, all of whom I love and who require my attention. Once the decision has been made for me, motivation is never an issue. I am insatiable when it comes to craft and creation. No measure of time is large enough.

LD: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it?

MP: I have two distinct methods of fashioning a poem. In scenario 1, work streams through me, wherever I might be located, into a journal I then flip through weeks later to see whether or not I have written a passage that has “potential.” If so, I type said passage in, revising as I go, then revise five or six more times before emailing it to the talented and honest editors I am lucky to know. This was the case with "Rainer and the Rio Grande", a poem I scrawled down as a quick entry during a flight home from a vacation in New Mexico with my wife and boys. In scenario 2, I rifle through various fragments of phrases and castaway stanzas I have saved in “composting” folders on my computer. I look for connective tissue and begin cutting and pasting, slashing, building and burning, ultimately cobbling together a collage of poetic parts. From there, I follow the previous procedure. This was how I arrived at "Receiving Line", an autobiographical piece about my experience at my father’s wake that I felt compelled to assemble after attending a fourth student’s parent’s service in one school year. Scenario 2, by the way, requires a word about computer usage:  after 28 years, I am still head over heels in love with the kiss of pen to paper, but am equally energized by the aggressive cross-pollinating and paint-splattering Pollock-esque freedom afforded me by technology. A prerequisite, of course, for the process in scenario 2 is that one be willing to slaughter and recast one’s own writing, to not think one’s work too precious. I like to think of myself as a matchmaker who lets the lonely, cologned and perfumed single fragments of my work go out on the town of my hard drive to find each other.

LD: Do you believe in “writer’s block”?

MP: I believe in writer’s block as one believes in hepatitis or tuberculosis without having experienced them. I know it is there. I have heard stories and imagine that if writing were my full time profession I’d have contracted a case of “the block” by now. But I also think it’s about approach. Do we wait to be inspired? Do we look for it? Do we look too hard? Do we know too much? National Book Award-winner Colum McCann came to my high school one year and told the assembly, “If you know where you are going when you are writing, there is no point to doing it.” I think I benefit from having no idea where I am headed when I set pen to paper or fingers to keys. Perhaps I benefit, too, from being an intensely visual and intuitive person to whom being spontaneously and/or analytically verbal does NOT come naturally. Writing pulls back the tall red curtain, lets me give words to the cinema of my experience, interpret and subtitle the reels of silent footage running from my brain to my heart, to find out what they know – to put myself between them in their backroom embrace. And playing with language – the music of syllables and sounds along the way – is so enjoyable I imagine I will always write, as I have since I was 11, for the sheer love of it, regardless of professional ambition.

LD: What do you like to read before you write? Or after? Or during?

MP: I will confess to you now a great and shameful secret – I am an English teacher who rarely finishes books. I have always been this way. I do read a lot and love to read but do so until I am sparked so full of inspiration and motivation that I put the book down and am off, shot down the track, blowing steam from my opened head. All it usually takes is a poem or two, if it’s good work. I am highly flammable.