Category Archives: Writing

Erasure Poems

I got really into doing erasure/blackout poems in July. I’d never tried them before really, but I was doing a 30-poems-in-30-days challenge with some friends, and wanted to participate more days of the month than not—but I didn’t have the poetry-emergy-wherewithal to write from scratch everyday. Blackout poems, I discovered, were a really fun and rewarding way to still participate in the making of poetry without having the burden of the totally blank page.

I’ve gotten quite into it, and have some larger erasure projects in mind for the winter when being outside isn’t so tempting. But in the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying the occasional foray of taking a Sharpie to a magazine. Entertainment Weekly is surprisingly fecund (though Us Weekly is not), and Money Magazine, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest and House Beautiful work well. The New Yorker’s vocabulary of course makes it a fantastic source too (and now I finally know what to do with all those years-old New Yorkers I am never going to get around to reading!). But the most fun was definitely the night I used the King County Voters pamphlet.

Here are a few of the ones I did in July that I like best. (Click on the images to see them larger). Enjoy!

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“Because entrances! Audacity! Breakdowns! The hots!”

Delighted to end 2015 with a poem of mine about the TV show Empire published in The Broken City’s “Remotely Controlled” TV issue (#17), which you can read online or download. It begins,

Because Cookie punched BooBooKitty right in the damn face
then 40 seconds of ohhellno awyeah on a red pool table!

(The poem uses up my entire lifetime’s allotment of exclamation points but it did seem, given the subject, an appropriate place to put them all at once…)

This caps off a lovely 2015 for me from a reading and writing perspective, with a grand independent bookstore adventure and library book bingo fun, and poems published in FIELD, The Operating System, and The Human. And I even survived the rampant Seahawks fans of my new city.  I only managed six of my supposed-to-be-monthly posts this year, but that just gives me an easy new year’s resolution.

Happy new year!

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Random Books, Forgotten Poems, Funny Podcasts, and A Forklift Whose Beep Has Lost Its Tone

Pop Culture Happy Hour, the awesome NPR pop culture podcast hosted by Linda Holmes, ends each podcast with a round-the-table of “What’s making us happy this week.” And one of the things that’s making me happy this week is their Oscars Omnibus podcast (all about the nominated pictures) — an even more awesome than usual feast of smart, clever people being intelligent and entertaining about pop culture from high to low.

Other things that are making me happy this week: having been reminded of a poem I’d somehow forgotten about, Philip Levin’s “This Be the Verse” (the one that begins “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”), the two books I’m reading, The Bullpen Gospels, recommended by a friend last summer because I liked Scott Simon’s Home and Away so much, and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a mystery with, as the blurb promised, a heroine who’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Eloise, which I picked up at Mercer Street Books on a jaunt to lower Queen Anne last weekend.  Continue reading

From Word to Poem

As I mentioned before, I’m teaching a workshop at the Attic Institute in Portland this summer, June 30-July 28. Here’s little insight into the word-to-poem process, and a sample of some of the kind of fun we’ll have with words in the workshop (for which you can register here — would love to have some of you in class!).

I was flipping through my Dictionary of Contrasting Pairs this morning, because the radio keeps playing a song that says, “The opposite of love’s indifference,” which has me thinking about opposites, traditional and re-defined. And I came across the entry for “austral/septentrional,” which I now know are rareish equivalents of north and south when used adjectivally (so a ‘septentrional state’ is a northern country, an ‘austral wind’ a south wind).

Which is cool, if pretty obscure, but the entry also had this tidbit about Australia: Continue reading

Taking Heart

I’ve taken heart recently, creatively speaking, from three books: Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare,  Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Forever, and Keith Richards’ autobiography Life.

From Greenblatt’s very readable and fascinating biography of Shakespeare, just how much Shakespeare stole plots/basic ideas from other existing plays or stories. (I knew he had done so sometimes, but didn’t realize quite how much.) Creative lesson: you don’t, necessarily, have to reinvent the wheel. Continue reading

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Stumptown Mornings

I’ve been thinking this week about my “writing practice,” as the phrase goes. Had a conversation recently with a friend in which I’m pretty sure, thinking about it afterwards, we meant different things, mentally and logistically, when we said ‘writing.’ And I also attended a panel on creativity the other night featuring a garden designer, a woodworker, and a poet, which got me thinking about things like failure.

Here are the three things I believe about a writing practice: (1) It has to be daily. Discipline determines your fate; inspiration’s merely opportunity. (2) If you honor a space with hard work and lots of time, it will soon start to take care of you. (3) First drafts always suck. Continue reading

Triggering Books

My favorite ‘about writing’ book, which I re-read every 1-2 years, is Richard Hugo‘s Triggering Town. I think it’s possible that the world can be divided into writers whose favorite is Triggering Town, and writers who favor Anne Lamott‘s books (which I’ve picked up a couple times but never gotten far with, for whatever reason).

I often turn to Triggering Town when I’ve finished (well, ‘finished’ — I write at a fairly Bishopian pace, which is to say it takes years, most of the time, to really finish a poem) or at least paused on all the poems I had going. Hugo is so honest about the silliness of writing at all, and the realities of a writing life, abjectly honest, but reassuring too in his insistence on the essentialness of it. I shouldn’t have ever started marking passages I liked — almost the whole book’s underlined now.

Hugo says broad things like, “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything” and “You have to be silly to write poems at all” and also gives nuts-and-bolts tidbits, for instance,

A student may love the sound of Yeats’s “Stumbling upon the blood dark track once more” and not know that the single-syllable word with a hard consonant ending is a unit of power in English, and that’s one reason “blood dark track” goes off like rifle shots.

The only part of the book that seems dated now (it was published in 1979) Continue reading

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Aside: Craft

Self-expression is one of the least interesting aspects of writing to me. Craft is the thing. Putting words together that take your reader somewhere, using the tools at hand to make something, make something happen, not just express something— that takes real work and real revision.

I feel that “poetry takes work and revision” should be a duh statement, but it seems to need saying. Just writing something down doesn’t make it poetry. It can be useful and good for your personal self, but that’s not the same thing.

But, of course, if the poet has done the work, s/he is in the poem anyhoo. Mark Doty in The Art of Description: “The more accurate and sensory the apparent evocation of things, the more we have the sense of someone there doing the looking, a sensibility at work.”


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