Fifteen Ways of Looking at a Writer

This meme has been circulating on a few of the poet-blogs I read.  I don't usually use memes on my blog because most of them seem boring, and a little me-focused.  But since this one is about a subject near and dear to my heart, and because (let's face it) my bloggy-time is a bit more limited since school let out, I thought I'd give it a try:

1.  What's the last thing you wrote?  A poem called "The Sick Mother."  It's an attempt to capture the experience of isolation from one's family, and one's "old life," because of illness.  The poem winds up back in ancient days with Lot's wife, who turned to watch the destruction of the city where she had lived her life.  The seed for this poem was planted several years ago when I read Jane Kenyon's "The Sick Wife," which also speaks to the way illness can isolate one from the rest of the world (read it here, scroll down).

2.  Is it any good?  I think it has potential.  I'm not done working on it.

3.  What's the first thing you ever wrote that you still have?  I guess I would say I have three of my early poems that still feel important to me.  One is about slipping into my mom's and dad's bedroom as a child and finding my mom's rosary out on her dresser; last lines:  it was then I knew/she wasn't only mine.  The second is called Fisherman and it's about my dad.  The third is Still: a love poem; I wrote it long ago for Husband.

4.  What's your favorite genre of writing?  Well, poetry.  But I also love good essay writing, and other forms of creative non-fiction.  From my perspective, poetry and essay are the same kind of writing; its just that poetry is a very brief and (hopefully) very artful essay.  I also love a good short story (emphasis on good); two of my all-time favorites are "How to Win" by Rosellen Brown and "Gesturing" by John Updike.

5.  How often do you get writer's block?  Two or three times a year; each bout lasting a week or two.  I know of some writers who say they don't believe in writer's block.  My guess is that either they haven't experienced it, or they are more skilled than I am in shutting it down before/as it begins.  Another writer (who? I can't remember, but I read his essay on writer's block years ago) says that writer's block is nothing but fear.  I think that's true.  But, hey, I'm human: I'm fearful sometimes.

6.  How do you fix writer's block?  I let it take its course for a while.  I let the false voices spin their lies ("you'll never write another poem again," "all the poems have been written," "it's over, sweetheart."), pretending, for their benefit, that I believe them.  I get a little sad.  I busy myself with other little projects, such as researching bees ad infinitum.

Then I take a deep breath and do what all writers must do: I go back to my desk and start writing again.  It also helps to read good poems at this point.  My old-reliables for stirring the pot are Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, and Denise Levertov (to whom I refer in my mind, and in our imaginary conversations about poetics, by their me-imposed nicknames:  Miss Emily, Anne S. and D-Lev.  Yes, I'm a nerd).

7.  Do you save everything you write?  I used to, but I'm in the process of getting rid of lots of old stuff.

8.  How do you feel about revision?  I feel that it's the only way to write more than one or two good poems a year.  I feel that I'm not very good at true re-vision, but I'm trying to learn ways of seeing again each poem.  I try to honor Donald Hall:  "If the poet wants to be a poet, the poet must force the poet to revise.  If the poet doesn't wish to revise, let the poet abandon poetry and take up stamp-collecting or real estate."

9.  What's your favorite thing you've written?  Well, I'm kind of fickle.  I tend to like the things I'm working on at the moment.  Recently I wrote a poem called "Picture of the Sun" that I like a lot right now.  It's kind of a wild and crazy look at a child brushing up against mortality (without fully realizing it), and it was really fun to write.

10.  What's everyone else's favorite thing you've written?  Hard to know when one has not published a book.  Although I did get lots of good feedback from several people on "A Wendy House" when that was up on my blog; here's an excerpt:

That was before you woke up from your faint
and remembered:  You were only
a girl.  With no experience.

Except that this time, you did grow up.  And now
your must decide:  will you be a lady, or a bird, or a witch?

11.  What themes emerge in your writing?  That's a hard one to answer because I'm so close to the writing; without some distance I'm not sure what I say will be accurate.  But it seems to me that one of my themes is the human condition of simultaneous connection and isolation.  Other than that: family life; spiritual journeying; growing up; the interplay of individual and landscape.  I've also been writing a lot lately about the beginnings and endings of civilizations, and about planetary objects.   Something tells me all of these are variations on the theme of What Is This Life Really About, Anyway?

12.  What writing projects are you working on right now?  Practicing re-vision.  Pulling together 20 additional poems for the Mentors to critique just in case I make the final cut for Mentor Series.  Working through the book Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem by Wendy Bishop, to sharpen my poetry-reading and -writing skills.  I bought the book used (its full price is not very poet-budget-friendly) and so far it has been a rich resource.

13.  What's one genre you have never written and probably never will?  I think I will never write a novel.  My preferences are for short forms:  poetry, essay, short story.  I have thought about writing a memoir-ish book about living with chronic illness.  That will have to be a Someday Project; I barely have time for my beloved poems right now, let alone a big, fat book research and writing project.

14.  Do you write for a living?  Do I make money at it?  No.  So, I don't write for a living per se.  I write because it's my life's work (along with being a mom).  I think any writer would tell you that there's really no choice in the matter; if you must write, you write.

15.  Quote something you've written.   From some recent poems:

O, Phoebe, Iapetus, tell us/all your secrets  -from "Primer From the Outer Moons of Saturn"

You will turn back again, wincing/to touch the bones you vowed to share.  -from "Poem Not to Be Read at Your Wedding" (title borrowed from Beth Ann Fennelly)

Goodbye, house, womb of a small beginning.  -from "Letter to My First"

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