Thursday, August 24, 2017

Writing Is My Drink and My 26-Minute Memoir

This summer I had a few precious weeks of more open-ended time that I could spend writing. It was quite terrifying and I felt the pressure to produce after long stretches of go-go-go work and home life. I knew I had to find a way to avoid the self-sabotage of frittering away that all-too-rare time.

In moments like these I cling to my collection of "writer's self-help" resources. One of my go-to books has been Writing Is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor. I was particularly inspired (once again) by her description of breaking through a terrible block writing her graduate thesis after reading Virginia Valian’s essay “Learning to Work” from Working It Out: 23 Women Writers, Artists, Scientists, and Scholars Talk About Their Lives and Work. I discovered this long out-of-print book in FIT's library while developing my Creative Imagination honors course over a decade ago. I am so happy that Theo has provided a PDF of Valian's piece on her site.

At the end of one of the chapters Theo gives a prompt for a "26-Minute Memoir" and directs readers to her website for more information. I did the exercise and decided to email Theo my piece, even though she hadn't published any new ones since 2015.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later, Theo wrote back and said she had been thinking of posting them again, and wanted to start with mine!

This morning, on the brink of the Fall 2017 semester, as I prepare to lead my department and teach my students (and support my son, who is now taking classes there), I got an email from Theo with a link to my piece on her website. I am even more terrified--of what it reveals about me as a person, and of what it means to me as a writer. Now I really have no excuse not to do the work. I am learning, thanks to Theo, Virginia, and many others who have done it before me, and to my students who will just be starting this adventure next week.

Monday, April 10, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 10 (skipped some)


I still make inside jokes with you
even though you don't get them
strings wavering

The moon is a bright tired thing
everybody thinks they own
night buzzes along

Salt water was your favorite
so cleansing, the passages
crisp folds marked

Hold the bow lightly
technique finally perfected
doors fly open

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 4

Message in a Bottle

Rescue me from the tyranny of water
Rescue me from water all around
Rescue me from calculus, both kinds
Rescue me before this island sinks
Rescue me until you're rescued too
Rescue me when you think I'm okay
Rescue me from fear--I'm trapped and grounded
Rescue me above the time - the time
Rescue me from this time and this place
Rescue me from a blank bulletin board
Rescue me from solitary hashmarks
Rescue me in case of flood or fire
Rescue me break glass but remain clam
Rescue me and I meant "clam" not "calm"
Rescue me - tornadoes in my dreams
Rescue me - in quicksand ever sinking
Rescue me - running always running
Rescue me - the water heats to steam

Written with students and colleagues @ FIT in Traveling Through Language presentation and workshop with Anca Cristofovici

NaPoWriMo 2017, Day 3

The Ultimate Confessional Poem, Take One

 “Grief is a world you walk through skinned, unshelled”
 --Ariel Levy

I hear the noise of my own voice:
Prince, you’re a prince. A dog a man
in the commonplaces of the asylum. 
All’s misalliance.

Far-fetched, tenacious, captious: fan
in that narrow diary of my mind,
The ultimate American,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot

Yet why not say what happened?
There is enough here to please a nation. 
As sure as God made Granny Smith.
The trees have more than I to spare.

Strange, not to wish one's wishes onward. Strange,
and fasten a new skin around it.
Let me study the cardiovascular tissue, 
Ich, ich, ich, ich

My dear, it was a moment
I have to nudge myself to stare. 
The garden's garter snake
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.  

Outside of us the village cars followed
Then told my parents, analyst,   
If it's been good, be glad it's been.
Neither you there, nor coming. Heavy change!

collage/crowdsourced from John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, W.D. Snodgrass, and George Starbuck

Sunday, April 02, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 2

The Duration

The East River looks frozen, choked
eddies pulling in oppositions.
Cumulocirrus skies leak blue in spots.

You are not waiting at home
as you were so long, long ago,
solid point 'round which my currents churned.

Picking my way through stepped-on
frozen slush, I push my heart rate,
building stamina for the long haul.

How much longer?
How many more miles without a you
or any other you?

Families pass on the promenade. The men
have all married younger wives.
The women are plush and beautiful,
their lips open delicately when kissed.

I have not forgotten how I had
to teach you softness, the relaxed tongue,
the release that made you squirm.

Spring is so late this year
we may never thaw again. Hard
to believe, harder to bend not break.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 1

I'm doing this! It's National Poetry Month, and that means another round of NaPoWriMo. I will be writing a poem a day all of April. This year I'm part of the crew posting on the Bloof Books Blog (thank you, Shanna Compton!). Here we go!

Daily Wonders

The weather had us, umbrellas charged
and ready. Another Nor'easter swipes
the city. We pour out of the theater,
headed for dinner to be photographed
on our phones.

Our pens have forgotten how to write,
so stiffened our writing arms from texting.
It's not the pain so much as the wind
that buffets human invention.

We cross the street mid-block to skirt
the lake drowning the gutters at the corner.
Dinner is better with a little truffle oil,
so we all have the orzo mac and cheese.

South of here, a mess of PVC ignited
to wreck a bridge, sink a highway.
We were not in traffic at the time,
we were not texting while driving,
we were nowhere near the overpass.

Why press these sticky notes to the page?
The organ bellows, the wine mellows,
the crowd goes wild. It's been too long
since we touched a piano. Touch this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Another Saturday Night

Here's a poem I drafted with my Tuesday morning Poetry Writing class after the September 17 explosion on 23rd Street (and unexploded device found on 27th Street). Dan Shefelman heard me read it at FIT's Academic Open Mic, and we ended up having some of our words included in the ChalkFIT exhibit.

Another Saturday Night

and I got nobody never
never no how no way
no day do I wake up 
in the green of a Sunday
next to a body that is not me.
No, sirree, I'm F-R-E-E
and blowin' in the wind
no sin    no ramifications
of our stepping out, stepping in
with someone who may or may not
have our best interests at heart
no tart horning in, no spin
no twisting to look thin
no morning-breath grin
and gee-willikers it's been
a mighty long time since
the lane was clear for me to pass,
keep sass, and break the fast
in the L-A-S-T gasp of a blast--
Ahem. That was it, the time we had
no alternative but had to walk past
the site, the fright of shrapnel, and we might
glaze over it's been so long
since we felt safe—
we are never safe, never safe 
never safe wind up for the throw
and place your javelin dart,
arrow, expert archery will
get you nowhere, whether or no
and I solemnly swear I will    I will
I will    I will    I will care
every time I see another news
report of the dead, stripping us bare
and elemental it’s elementary
welcome to the Twenty-First
Century where everything happens twice—
in real time and online and over
and over and over and over
it rhymes these men    these men
and boys these guns used like toys
these cries not tears of joy and when was
the last time you heard a politician
who was not a ploy? The brazen brazier
of the plain plaisir another Saturday night
and the ladies are feeling right,
the car gave us an awful fright,
the first responders are outta sight
and that is what and where and when we
must begin and end
the ever-loving better-living fight.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Poetry Jump-Starts (for my classes and whoever else needs them)

It's Wednesday, which means that Mary Biddinger is tweeting a new Summer Poetry Prompt, as she is doing every Wednesday this summer. I thought I would post the prompts I give to my FIT students here, too.

Poetry Jump-Starts
Here are some prompts to get you started on a poem! 
·      Write a poem in the voice of another person, a creature, or an object, using first person (dramatic monologue).
·      Write a letter in verse form to a famous person.
·      Write a verse letter to someone you know very well.
·      Is there a piece of art or music that you admire, or even dislike?  Write about it—describe it, but try to say something beyond the mere description.
·      Look out your window at the scene you see every day.  Observe it for some length of time.  Try to imagine you’re seeing it for the first time.  Do you see anything new?  Use your imagination.  Then write.
·      Go somewhere you’ve never been before, and write about what you see there.
·      Write about an image from a dream. Describe it as specifically as possible, just as you remember it, without interpreting or explaining it.
·      Write about a specific, detailed memory.  Using sensory detail and/or figurative language, try to “show” the significance of that memory to your reader, rather than “telling” it. (Try to use all five senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)
·      Take two lines from poems by someone else.  Write one at the top of the page, and one at the bottom. Write your way from the first line to the last.