Planning the Writing Year

I’m starting my writing year with ideals.

I’ve decided my strategy for accomplishing my multiple goals will rely upon my old three-legged stool: the sacred space-time of writing, the support of my family and writing group, and a newly revised set of ideals.

If thinking about your writing goals for the new year evokes feelings as distinct as squirreliness and torpor, if you approach new work with excitement and review old work with a tinge of disappointment or self-doubt, if thrill and dread are vying for your heart, this post is for you.

As I begin a deeply appreciated and long awaited sabbatical, I find myself swinging from ice-glazed branches, happily surveying the fresh white of land and soul and blank pages. I write, read, clean, catch up with friends virtual and real. I contemplate creating a schedule with its challenges and threats of internal resistance. I dread the planned mini-separations from the beloved spouse to do my research and writing. I also look forward to them. I sigh and reach for a chunk of dark chocolate.

I’ve decided my strategy for accomplishing my multiple goals will rely upon my old three-legged stool: the sacred space-time of writing, the support of my family and writing group, and a newly revised set of ideals. Not just goals, but ideals.

To create an ideals chart to guide your life this year without tearing out too much of your own hair, grab a pen and a fresh journal page, sheet of paper, or make a chart or spreadsheet. Create a column for each main area of your life (I have five categories: Mental, Spiritual, Physical, Poetic, and Homey.) Then write a word or phrase to guide your activities in that area of your life. Some words may cross categories: for me, cultivating “love” and “patience” applies in every area, from dealing with demands on my time to my own relationship with the literary world. I can challenge myself and support deeper thoughts, new approaches, new psychic and literal material for writing when supported by a rededication to my own ideals.

Doing this relatively quick but meaningful reflective activity saves me a lot of angst. Emphasis on ideals keeps my focus on being more than on doing. My own drive and life will provide activities and goals. It’s through ideals that I can look forward to taking the inevitable rejections and challenges of the year along with the quandaries and joys in stride. It’s all progress. As Maggie Smith reminds us daily on Twitter, keep moving–to which I add, be still and centered, my soul.

Bittersweet Chocolate

 

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Image courtesy of KinYu-Z.net

Whether with dread or welcome, we find ourselves at Valentine’s Day yet again. It’s a challenging day to teach creative writing to undergraduates. In teaching my students to notice what works best in their own poems, they’ve started already (three weeks in) to recognize the lasting appeal of love poems that express complication without surrendering to despair.

This modern love poem doesn’t work well for white chocolate lovers. Too high a tolerance for sweetness. Permit me a moment of synesthesia when I say that if your tastes turn to a bit of bitterness, darkness, or chili with the chocolate, the sound of the taste resonates far longer and more pleasantly.

It seems to me that many poets have done this, though, arguably, none better than the late Seamus Heaney. Featured today on Poetry Daily is his poem “Scaffolding.” A friend and colleague commented that the “wall” in this poem resonates differently in the Trump era; however, despite the obvious temporal and situational contrasts, I challenged that idea. Consider how Heaney endured the Troubles in Belfast with its sectarian divides rendered in concrete “peace walls” before he defected to the Republic and eventually the States. The image of a wall is fraught with tension, yet in “Scaffolding” he appreciates the solidity, the creation, the relationship between the poem’s couple who set up the scaffolding in order to build the wall. Heaney’s metaphor celebrates letting the scaffolding go to show that a relationship builds something new, something that establishes boundaries and claims territory at the same time that it represents a mutual, hard-won peace. A peace wall carves out a space where people with their own differences can meet. Only then can love be realized. Enjoy.

 

 

These Winter Sundays

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Mini-chapbook by Marilyn McCabe

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Yes, these are really our socks

 

These winter Sundays, when snow mounds, temperatures plummet, and spirits sag a bit, I renew my appreciation of spirit lifters, chief among which are the Women of Mass Dissemination, my writers’ group of the past decade. We meet monthly, go on a weekend retreat twice a year to write, and hold each others’ multicolor sock-toed feet to the metaphorical (and this year, literal) fire. In the past decade the six of us have published more than I can count (books, poems, video poems, novels, reviews, and essays, with plays in the works), but only after months and years of drafting, rewriting, sharing, critiquing, debating, informing, and exploring. We write collaboratively, try out or create writing  prompts, debate literary standards, test the water-worthiness of our rafts of words. We take two drafts forward and three drafts backwards. We mutter, we admonish, we ask, we suggest, we redirect, we inspire, we bless, we curse, we wonder, we wander, we read, we retreat, we return, we succor, we savor, we paint, we review, we write, we blog, we brand.  We expand each other’s reading lists and hone each other’s literary taste. (Of course, chocolate and pot pie are often involved.) We worry, we plan, we learn, we teach, we share, we fuss, we fix, we applaud. But mostly, we write.

Here’s to the Women of Mass Dissemination,* without whom I’d be sitting in a barn somewhere wondering where all the poets are, wondering too what happened to the poet in the mirror. And here’s to you, writing at your desk, on your bed, on your train, in your barn. Here’s to your tribe, whether you’ve found them yet or not.

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*The Women of Mass Dissemination (WMD for short) are Lale Davidson, Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe, Mary Sanders Shartle, Nancy White, and yours truly. (In the photo above right, standing: Marilyn McCabe, Mary Sanders Shartle, Elaine Handley, Nancy White; seated, left to right: Lale Davidson and Kathleen McCoy.)

Book Fair Season

 

22nd-Chronicle-Book-FairTo smell damp leaves, feel the crisp cheek-brush of November breeze and enter a grand old hotel full of books–poetry, novels, children’s books, travel books, regional books, genre fiction and more–well, it’s difficult to think of a better way to spend a weekend day. Especially in a small town. This Sunday, November 5, join award-winning poets and novelists like Barbara Ungar and Mary Sanders Shartle between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at the Queensbury Hotel (did I mention I’ll be there too?). We’re reading 12:30-1:00 in the Saratoga Room, talking with folks and selling books all day, and your presence will make our day. It just might brighten yours as well. #Chronicle Book Fair on Twitter; Glens Falls Chronicle Book Fair on Facebook. Click here: Chronicle Book Fair.

Green&BurningCover     More Water Than Words     Lily Martindale.jpg Barbara Ungar Immortal Medusa.jpg

When To Say No[t]

IMG_7984Angela Nardin sings “The Nearness of You” by Ned Washington and Hoagey Carmichael at Hudson River Music Hall on September 17, 2017

It’s not always the evanescent wonder of words that entices readers. It’s just knowing when to say “no[t].”

It wasn’t just Hoagey Carmichael’s ear for a tune that made “The Nearness of You” a hit in pre-WWII America; it was lyricist Ned Washington’s use of litotes, the figure of speech that turns a negative into a positive: “It’s not the pale moon that excites me, / that thrills and delights me, / oh, no. It’s just the nearness of you.” The negation of beauty is paradoxically enhanced by the understatement of a positive. This technique is useful for poets–actually, for sane and savvy folks of all stripes these days.

Paradox makes for fine poetry, particularly when prose falls prey to prevarication.

When current events fuel your ire, or when you just want to praise someone you love, take a stab at litotes. And enjoy this short clip of SUNY Adirondack music student Angela Nardin at vimeo.com/240616709.

100 Thousand Poets for Change: Global, Grassroots Arts and Social Advocacy

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This is regional event I organize and host every year. It is part of a global grassroots movement to call attention to the arts and social justice: 100tpc.org.

Nat Geo and Processes of Poetry, of Peace

Watching Nat Geo gets my engine going with its brilliant animations and explanations of the processes that go on beneath our feet in the bowels and heart of the planet. Millions of years ago uncountable blankets of dead plankton settled into the bed of a dried-up antediluvian sea, descended far into the earth, were superheated by the oven-engine beneath them and tossed about like ashes in a hurricane, then settled into the sandstone deep down between crust and core and, after much pressure and slow tectonic shifts, became the black sludge that powers cars, computers, cities, universities, nations. We jack-hammered hundreds of miles down and pumped up this blackness, this foulness, this richness, this pure potential, the energy required for the engine of modernity to chug to life. While it’s far past the time we should be weaned from our oil diet in every city and town, hard drilling is how we started to create and share power.

What struck me most is how similar evolution must happen in our psyches and our nations before we can become a world where peace is even possible. The hard labor of breaking up the stone that surrounds our inner core must happen before we can discover the richness that makes such ecological and psychological trauma an unnecessary, outmoded process of the past. We must destroy the old illusions that we are separate, that there is no deep core of potential in our antagonists, that we can persist in oblivion upon the crust of social systems whose magma is about to erupt from beneath our dancing feet.

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(Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons)

So we must do with our being: bore into the hard stone inside us, break it up, pump up the rich energy it releases. Carefully. That superheated heart has been known to blow off the tops of mountains and level whole towns in rains of fire.

When it is relieved of pressure intentionally we find power; when the pressure is relieved by nature itself we find the land blanketed with lava that can melt our shoes, but that becomes, when it cools, the most fertile of fields. Love. Forgiveness. Will to give ourselves to art and to each other.

If you have not yet done so, read Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Recommend it to your elected officials. Before you write your next poem, read her prose poem “Transformations” from In Mad Love and War.