Friday, September 23, 2016

On Writing #107 : Gina Myers

Is there room in the room that you room in?
Gina Myers

In the opening sonnet from Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, Berrigan asks, “Is there room in the room that you room in?” In poetry, we measure things by stanzas—stanza being Italian for room—so I can’t help but wonder if Berrigan is asking if there is room for us inside your poem. Of course, there is a chance that Berrigan didn’t write this line himself as The Sonnets challenged notions of authorship and first introduced, at least to me, the idea of community as a way of process. One thing that I love about Berrigan’s work is this inclusivity--the space created for other voices, the welcoming of other people, and the creative potential of conversation and friendship.

The New York School poets have been essential to me and my own understanding of what poetry is and what it can be. Bernadette Mayer’s writing experiments remind me that the material of poetry is everywhere, whether it’s a snippet of overheard conversation on a street corner or language snatched from a dream or a Facebook ad. CA Conrad has said, “All the globe becomes a poem.” I find these ideas incredibly generous and permissive. There is a freedom that comes with opening one’s self up to the idea that poetry is everywhere if we’re willing to listen for it.

In an interview, Eileen Myles defines what it means to be a New York School poet: “As an aesthetic it means putting yourself in the middle of a place and being excited and stunned by it, and trying to make sense of it in your work.” This, putting one’s self somewhere and being excited to be there despite all that being there involves--the joyful as well as the heartbreaking and ugly--and trying to make sense of it, is what poetry is for me. And I am happy to be here. And I’m happy you’re here too.

Gina Myers is the author of two full-length poetry collections, A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), as well as numerous chapbooks. Originally from Saginaw, Michigan, she now lives in Philadelphia where she works in higher ed communications.

Monday, September 12, 2016

On Writing #106 : Valerie Witte

On Writing: By the Grace of Gilmore
Valerie Witte

the first thing. since departing. or arrival, depending on how you look at it. regardless, a demarcation of time and space. a border crossed, mountains, a region traversed. i escaped the drought and waded into rain. i belonged to a community; now, an outsider, an interloper, coming for jobs, and land.

This is the first thing.

the first I've written since. necessary losses. pure surfaces. hard cider. fritter away, the quiet of a fog machine. humming. other people’s phrases. a hoping-for-survival guide.

I remember watching “Gilmore Girls” in my parents’ basement the autumn after I graduated from college, in that period of uncertainty when you are launched after 16 years of schooling into “the real world,” with little idea of where you will land. I remember after moving to San Francisco two-and-a-half years later, missing an episode and frantically retrieving a videotape from a stranger on Craigslist—the small crisis that missing your favorite TV show once was. I remember taking a photo of my TV screen during the final scene and sending it to the man with whom I used to watch the show in St. Louis. At the time, I considered the conclusion of the series the end of a chapter of my life.

Now, eight years after ending, it’s resurfaced . . . in the form of a podcast (yes, the show itself is also returning, but that’s another discussion). As I prepared to move to Oregon, I listened to the entertaining, meandering conversations of the Gilmore Guys—one a self-proclaimed superfan, the other watching the show for the first time. They made up recurring segments seemingly on the fly, such as the “Fashion Report” and “Pop Goes the Culture”—and ended each episode by singing the theme song, “Where You Lead,” by Carole King.

if not for. voices I would listen to. what matter if something “happened.” if characters spoke like “real” people. because a tv show is a warm blanket, a podcast a conduit. for comfort.

Their episodes often stretched to three hours in length, and I listened to each one—whether a Gilmore Gab, a Gilmail discussion, or a standard episode analysis. As I packed and cleaned out our apartment, I listened. As we drove up the coast, as we slept on the floor of our new apartment before our furniture arrived, I listened. For months, as we settled in, I listened. I wrapped myself up in their clever observations of human nature, as it related to the show, as well as their thoughtful critiques of plotlines and character motivations. I acquainted myself with their parade of special guests (of course I came to have my favorites). And, all the while, I was reassured by the charm, warmth, and wit of my favorite TV show, an endlessly loyal friend whose consistency and steadfastness had taken me from the cusp of adolescence to adulthood, from the Midwest to the West Coast. I listened while I made dinner, while I walked through the park, as I went to sleep at night.

all I’ve done is. follow. oil trains. moths to flame. civil coping. ecliptic as cuneiform. a sun’s path, radical. acceptance mechanisms. the comfort of collecting. plastic car parts. forgotten glaciers.

I often do my most satisfying writing under difficult circumstances; I feel better about feeling bad when I can make something meaningful out of the shit that does, indeed, happen. But in this case, I was overwhelmed . . . from the stress of moving and adjusting to our new space (where we were greeted by snow on our first night—a rude awakening to reality for this Californian), and three weeks later, being laid off from the job that I’d planned to keep in Portland.
threadbare. unraveled. skin and all. shed or. shredding, yet. i continue to inhabit my own body. break. down breweries. breakside. balanced body rollers. blueberry bourbon basil. i want to pain. away sideways pdx.

During this time, the closest I came to writing was . . . whenever I was out and I came across something interesting or potentially helpful in constructing my new life, I would “write it down” in my Notes app. Hence, my iPhone held a collection of poetry presses, installation titles, athleisure items, job board sites, local poets, local bars, local breweries, local donuts, local reading series, album names, and self-help books. This was the only “writing” I was doing.

expelled, disfigured or. the body imperfect. to be tied, like a knot. avoided or voided, periodically neglected. i have never felt this pain before. the delicacy of a spine. a massage to eliminate. is pressing better or letting. the energy of negation, of trying not. to hurt. what hinges you or what you hinge on. consideration of a core.

Three days after I was laid off, my boyfriend and I went to see the Gilmore Guys perform at a local theater. I had mentioned the live show to him weeks earlier, and, to my surprise, he wanted to go. He said he wanted to know what I had been experiencing these many months. We dutifully watched the episode to be discussed, Episode 608, “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out”; and we arrived to find a long line at the door. The place was packed, the crowd enthusiastic, a group of Jess Mariano enthusiasts (with matching “Team Jess” T-shirts) seated in front of us. What followed were nearly three hours of sheer exuberance and hilarity, featuring the Gilmore Guys singing the classic, “Let’s Talk About Jess,” in honor of the character’s momentous return to the show; and a stealth cameo by Lane Kim herself (ie., Keiko Agena). My boyfriend lamented that he wished he were a little more like the Gilmore Guys. It was the most joy I had felt in a very long time.

Although in theory, I had more “free time” than at any other point in my adulthood since that summer before “Gilmore Girls” first aired, looking for a job is not exactly conducive to freeing the creative mind, requiring as it does the seemingly endless drudgery of resume revision, awkward email-networking, job board scanning, webinar viewing, unemployment-benefit-process deciphering, and the steady stream of application submitting—all undergirded by the sinking suspicion that you will never hear back from anyone. To search for a job is to be caught in an infinite web of opportunities and requirements, hung against a backdrop of near-unbearable silence.

that no one wants you here. of all places. to reinvent yourself as good as any. filter. 24x7. the first thing i've written. women’s building. unit souzou.

Thus, I could not bring myself to think critically, or creatively, about anything. Thinking in this way required a certain kind of energy—an ability to examine my circumstances, an openness to play and experimentation, and a willingness to expend mental energy on the abstract act that is writing. This was an energy that I didn’t have. Instead, I mostly performed lazy, passive activities or tasks tied more to survival than anything else: organizing, exercising, cooking, watching TV, reading the news, and especially, listening to a whole lot of Gilmore Guys.

to plumb the west. poetry press week seems much shorter than its name implies. karma living wall. from the spare room board. hanging. stitched or the switch. title 9 stand by.
Every now and then Kevin, Demi, and Guest actually talked about the show: Lauren Graham’s brilliant face acting. The strangely high number of Mussolini references. The fact that whether Lorelai is putting tater tots, meatballs, or chicken nuggets on top of a frozen pizza, there is no way the thing would cook evenly. The reluctance to label oneself as Team Dean, Team Jess, or Team Logan.

More often they discussed topics only tangentially related to the show: What would your doggy swami fortune be if Paul Anka told it? Kevin, did you cry?

But most of the time they talked about things that bore merely a spiritual connection to the show, at best. What would a Carole Kings of Leon mashup be like? (This was followed, of course, by the creation of one by Demi.) What are the best comedy film sequels? What’s the most thoughtful date you have ever planned? What if you die erect and they can’t close the casket?

what we search for. if it doesn’t. where i am from or for. what matter. california poppy. oregon grape. celery space.

Recently, I went to a local vintage store, where an artist who had published a new set of tarot cards was doing mini, single-card readings. I selected a card from the pile: the Fool. Although at first this seemed a bit concerning, her face lit up at my choice, as she said, are you starting a new project? I said, yes, my life. Well, I just moved here, I explained. Which she seemed to think was so apt—and I agreed. She framed her interpretation of the card very positively: Each time you start over, you have more to draw from, she explained. This seemed encouraging. This seemed like something I could write about.

Apparently, the Fool is a card of potential, new beginnings, and innocence. The card represents the onset of creativity and a desire to work toward new goals. The Fool asks you to take a “leap of faith” and to trust in the Universe that you will find success in your new endeavors. This Fool does not seem to mind if he does not really know what lies ahead.
“The Fool is an excellent Tarot card to meditate on if you are experiencing a lot of fear in your life.”

i’m beginning to feel like myself again. haywire. skewed. try medicating. the question of soreness versus injury. to relief but. exquisite deformation.

After months of listening, I’ve finally caught up to the podcast in real time (they’re on episode 181 as I write this). So now, every Monday and Wednesday, I have to wait for the next one to drop—and they’re in the final season, Season 7. I’m not looking forward to the end of the podcast. But I’m looking forward to writing again.

the first thing i write down names, inelegant threads. what’s an alien hunter. rice museum. what to put into. sharp relief. kurt vulgar. or vile. miswriting the song. i walk on a pretty. jagged edge. wasted. disintegrated. apart at the seams.

i’d birthmark. fall from, frayed. like a blouse.


Valerie Witte is a writer and editor in Portland, OR. She is the author of the book, a game of correspondence (Black Radish Books), and her poetry has appeared in many print and online publications. To see more of her work, check out her website,

Friday, September 02, 2016

On Writing #105 : Molly Gaudry

On Writing
Molly Gaudry

I write this today in Salt Lake City, almost exactly one year from that day in July when I began a new manuscript. Mostly, I just culled from work already written, puzzled those pieces together and finessed when necessary. I completed the first draft in August. I have not looked at it since.

I have thought about it, though, and on the rare occasion even jotted down an idea that seemed worth not forgetting: “Cut Rose,” “Turn tea house into B&B,” “Kill tea house woman?”

In the three seasons that have passed since I put away that draft, I have mostly been reading and studying for exams. I have also loved and recovered and hardened undeniably, which I hope is no less necessary for my writing than reading and thinking about characters who love and recover, and harden or don’t.

The only writing I have done is critical. For the first time in my life, I took an entire semester to write a paper (vs. whip one together out of thin air during finals week). It was on Wuthering Heights, and I had several 10+page drafts, each taking a different approach based on the thousand or so pages of criticism I’d researched and attempted to synthesize.

At the time, I considered each false start wasted energy, but now I regard them no differently than I do the many drafts of any of my creative works. I’d never taken that kind of time before to write, and revise, and revise again, a final paper. It was fun. It was! I enjoyed it. It was like solving a mystery, searching for and hoping to find the right clues, and trying not to be distracted or misled along the way by wrong clues.

I also wrote a long paper on Bleak House, but it was of the whip-one-together variety, as I’d taken so long to finish the Wuthering paper I’d left myself only finals week to attack it.

Besides formal papers, I’ve blogged conversationally about other exam texts, mostly for fun but also as a prayer that any writing now will yield better recall in the exam room.  

All of this is to say: these texts I’ve labored over and am still laboring over have changed me as a writer. Analyzing so many narrative strategies, thinking about structure and form, games and methods of play, concepts and characters that have transcended their texts and stood the test of centuries, I’m pretty much just overwhelmed, confused, and tired. So I write this today in Salt Lake City believing I can’t possibly offer anything of value “on writing.” All I can say with certainty is that it is humiliating to try.

With less certainty:

If great writing is the product of great thought, then we must of course (as everyone says) privilege the long and laborious—but hopefully rewarding—process of revision. Thinking and rethinking. Writing. Re-writing.

Marguerite Duras says a book will scream at you until it’s finished. Mine, which I have not seen for a year, is just now starting to fill up its lungs with all these built-up thoughts. It’s a slow inhale, but an inhale nonetheless.

So let us take our time. Let writing be a product of waiting, thinking while living. Let us disregard the voice in our head that says we must be publishing more. Let us work at the pace that serves us best. And let us silence, or attempt to soothe, the screaming.

This time, for this new draft, perhaps even with a newfound _____________ (hardening, in my case) that, too, has been gathering force waiting to be let out.

Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart and Desire: A Haunting. She is the founder of Lit Pub.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

We Who Are About to Die: Pearl Pirie

Pearl Pirie is an editor, publisher and poet. Author of the pet radish, shrunken (BookThug, 2015) and other titles. She runs workshops in Ottawa and online and spends as much summer as she can canoeing and looking for fungi to photograph. The cat attacks her feet presumably to interject the job of cat butler shouldn’t be neglected.

Where are you now?
In my green velvet wingback. I have wanted a chair like this for years. Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness is misinformed. Money buys medicine, infrastructure, chocolate, books, roof repair, seasonal fruit, and a chair.

What are you reading?
The Essential Earthman: Henry Mitchell (First Mariner, 1981) which assures us no year is good for every plant or bad for every plant, The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde (Norton, 1978) which packs power, The World, I Guess by George Bowering (New Star, 2015) which is fascinating breadth, each chapter a complete departure in form and subject.

I’m generally spread across a dozen or more books. Also starting:1491: New Revelations of the America’s Before Columbus by Charles C Mann (Knoff, 2005), Fragments de Sofnos par Claire Rochon (Éditions du Nuroît, 2009), Aisles de taule par Éric Charlebois and Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis (Simon and Schuster, 1998).

What have you discovered lately?
Familiar is from the same root as familial. This is finally the season when honey locusts smell like honey. This site on dragonflies: and this is a good policy; no is a good word. save up your yesses so there's room to do what you want & need to.
At Çatalhöyük  archaeobotanists, Ceren Kabukcu found with a microscope that neolithic people ate acorns, tubers, seeds, lentils, pea, grasspea, hackberry, and plums, and one-grain and two-grain einkorn wheat grains and that people burnt elm, oak and juniper wood in their ovens.

Illuminating stories: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), In Search of the Perfect Loaf: a home baker’s odyssey by Samuel Fromartz (Viking/Penguin, 2014), The immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown, 2010)

Where do you write?
Mostly in my home office but I scratch down ideas anywhere I am. I mostly edit at my desk. Or sprawled across the floor. I’m making time to keep office hours to make room for rest of life.

What are you working on?
Oh my, so many things. Tree reading series fall and next spring line up, grant applications, adding more to a manuscript of minimalist poems, editing a set of 30 years of breast poems (Best of the Breast too corny?) and a manuscript of tanka. Updating the mailing list for the KaDo so I don’s miss inviting anyone to the Sept haiku meeting. Tweaking a chapbook of the sex in sevens series. Letting canvas priming dry. Brainstorming designs for a fall chapbook from phafours, lining up guests for upcoming Literary Landscape and putting away stuff from teaching kids at the Carleton Creative Writing Camp. Feebly cleaning my office before stacks domino and flatten someone, like a cat. Hubby and I are considering shed plans for the firewood, canoe and kayak. Selling the words(on)pages chapbook (ongoing lack of spontaneous combustion) online, and psyching up for Fieldworks where 10 writers go out into a field and forest art exhibition and write ekphrastically and perform the poems within 3 days.

Have you anything forthcoming?
Looks like. A few months ago I’d have said no but promising leads. Shhhh. Sex in Sevens (from age 17-45). Watch

What would you rather be doing?

at 20: lightning sonnets, uncorsetted

How did you make out?

laugh at Friday’s pantomime — my clothes boxed, hidden,
my photo put in a frame to remember me when your parents came.

I was to wait outside, pace out of sight through winter drifts,
arrive some time after they settled in. greet as if we hadn’t just—

I flaked out, waited in the lobby, came upstairs doggedly,
declaring my cold walk, while sweaty and no glasses fogged.

like an English word in a French text, recognition leaps
of truth with cob-nailed soles with its two left feet.

would a latex suit do for passing through the lightning
of your mind, unseen, unstruck? near edge, heightening

to strip on the balcony in front of dark windows, wracked
at heat lightning ineffectually lighting your shirt’s back—

it catches on the nailhead of my pupil, before
rain tickles the thrumming dark on our shoulders.