Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Cassie Pruyn for asking me along on the Writing Process Blog Tour! And to Megan Galbraith who asked Cassie — two talented writers I admire very much, and whose work you should check out. (I wish we were on more than an e-tour, though. It would be fun to be traveling in a VW bus talking poems and eating in diners).

1) What are you working on?

I’m working on my first manuscript. It’s a collection of poems I’ve been working on for a few years now. These poems center on attention, on witness — on seeing. Some are dinosaurs I’ve polished/reinvented. Most are newer poems written while at Bennington — some are very new poems written since graduating last June. I’m working a good bit on two series of poems. The first invokes Charlotte Mew, a turn-of-the-century British poet who is largely unknown and mindblowingly good. The second is a series titled “Letters to Pittsburgh.” I am deep into revision mode right now, and also trying to see it as a whole — to figure out how they speak to each other, so I can make them into an organic book, not just a jumble of poems.

2) How does the work differ from others of its genre?

Major Jackson once asked us in a workshop to think about how we would define our poetic lineage. Think about it: how would you draw your poetic family tree? I’m continually aware of the poets to whom I’m indebted, those who’ve inspired me and paved the way. But I also hope I’m adding a unique voice to the landscape. I think maybe the biggest difference between my poems and some of what is out there is that they often risk sentimentality. I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of trying to be too clever in a poem, or prizing linguistic play above an emotional core. But then, of course, that means I need to also work against that tendency so I can continue to grow…

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was very young, I planned to write novels because that’s what I grew up reading. But then I read a poem, and another, and another — in an anthology in the library at my elementary school. I think they were Dickinson and Frost — and that was that. I felt immediately that this was the language of my inner world, and I just hadn’t realized that anyone else spoke it. This was the form where I could say the things I needed to say. This could be a much longer answer (and now I really do wish we were in a diner with some good diner coffee), so I’ll just say this: a poem enacts the experience for the reader. It is more of the thing itself than a description of the thing (prose, to me), and I’ve always liked that. It is also smaller. I like that I can have a poem in my pocket and nobody knows.

4) How does your writing process work?

My writing process is an intuitive thing — disordered, full of stops and starts. In the last few years, I’ve finally let go of the idea that I have to carve out the perfect space and time to write and think. I do “write” in some form every day. By this I mean I do things connected to writing in some way: writing down what I see or think on my walks (my son only sleeps while moving right now, so I type on my phone while pushing the stroller, which yes, has led to some embarrassing moments running into trees or people), reading, journaling, writing long emails, revising a poem. I’ve learned that sometimes if I let a poem percolate, I’ll wake up with the phrase I need, or think of it while showering. Not usually, but sometimes. Mostly, I sweat and fret and then eventually, sometimes, get it to where it feels right.

I read that Marianne Moore used to walk around her apartment with whatever poem she was currently working on stuck to a clipboard. While she was vacuuming or doing other practical stuff she had to do, she would still be looking at the poem, she would have it nearby. I love this image and although I don’t use the clipboard method, I try to always have the next poem in my head, so I can turn it over and over until I can bring it closer to what it’s supposed to be.

Thanks for reading! And look out for more posts as the Writing Process Blog Tour continues….

Free State Review

Grateful to have a poem, “Spin the Bottle,” in the newest issue of Free State Review. I’ve been a subscriber for awhile now and admired the poems, stories, essays within these pages. FSR can be called a lot of things: here are a few: unpretentious, energetic, freewheeling. Writers, check it out and submit. IMG_6121

Claudia Emerson

Claudia Emerson died a few days ago. Seven years ago, during my MA program, my friend Mary shared her book Late Wife with me. We swooned over her sonnets. This book brought me back to writing poetry after years of not writing. I had been focused on reading literature critically. But these poems made me think – I want to do that. I hadn’t had that feeling for a long time. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

A few months later, my first husband and I separated and eventually divorced. I couldn’t have known at the time I first read Emerson’s poems how important they would become to me. In her finely wrought, conversational lines, I found a way forward. And I found comfort.

Here is some comfort for those of you also mourning the loss of Emerson — a video of Emerson playing guitar with her husband, musician Kent Ippolito, and one of Mary’s and my favorite poems: “Daybook.”