Extending the Poll! And…


Seriously Bad Pun Alert

The answers are pouring in from (literally) all over the globe. So we decided to extend our poll  on how creative people manage the intersection of the creative life and a social/family life  until Wednesday of next week to give people a chance to chime in.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve already taken the survey – what a fascinating array of approaches, analyses, and resolutions are being discussed! Once everyone who wants to has a chance to votes, we’ll post the results. Look for them late next week.

Oh, and didn’t I say something about kittens?

Kitten Laptop

Briefly, Wednesday. And a kitten.

In Our Books is taking the day off. Well, not really, but Ina (that’s me) is in the depths of Ugly Data Analysis Hades (do not get me started) and Andrea is in the basic-services-for-living-aren’t-working-and-don’t-even-ask-about-internet-connectivity Ring of Hell that Dante would have written about if he’d known about it. So this is just a quick hello to our lovely fellow creatives and a reminder to add your input to our poll before we close it on Thursday night, and a promise that we’ll publish poll results on Friday. Oh, and  a kitten.

Stray kitten Rambo001

See you all Friday!

A poll: how do you remain true?

Hello, dear readers. A knotty problem today, waiting for your thoughts.

A blog I follow has a post about a problem that many writers I know (and many more that I’ve only read about in biographies) seem to run into (in Western cultures particularly – some day we’ll have to talk about why there’s so much variation in attitude between cultures). The author describes the problem like this:

You see, friends, my immediate family simply doesn’t understand me.  They don’t know why I like to do what I do.  They don’t have any interest in things that I love.  They just barely fall short of making fun of me for doing what I am so passionate about..It’s all about being true to oneself, isn’t it?  Rarely an easy thing to do, but made even more difficult when those immediately around you will not lovingly accept it.

The trope of the Misunderstood Writer has a long and venerable history. But behind the trope is a truth that many writers live and struggle with every day. It’s a little annoying when The distrest poetyou’re confronted by a relative stranger at a party or a school meeting who comes out with:  “You’re a writer. How do you pay the bills?” or “I don’t remember hearing your name – are you any good?” But it’s just plain hard when this vibe comes from someone you care  about, or love and trust, or someone to whom you’ve devoted your own life.

I want to dispel a potential misunderstanding here: the author of the blog, Cooper Robbins*, is not a whiny wanna-be (“If I only had a supportive family, I’d be a best-seller, but no, I’m so beat by the end of the day I’d rather watch re-runs”); this is an author whose creative life includes a novel, a screenplay, and a fair amount of “&c,” on top of maintaining a home and taking care of young ones. Her post (and this post) aren’t about people who want to be writers but don’t write…this is about how we as writers keep writing in the face of resistance from those whose opinions we most value.

Nerr0795 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library

Camouflage, demonstrated by the Graceful Kelp Crab

Robbins does this in part by developing and participating in supportive writing communities – in a way, that’s what her blog is about.  Some people (and I include myself here) have a sort of damn-the-torpedoes approach, which generally involves shutting certain people out of the creative part of one’s life. Other people hermit (to hermit: to isolate one’s self, creating a shell, and then decorating it with camouflaging materials, such as PTA meetings or banker’s three-piece suits, as needed).

So here’s my question. What do you do? What advice would you give to Cooper Robbins about how to cope with being surrounded by people who are either baffled  or skeptics? NOTE: The poll should let you vote for as many choices as you want – if it doesn’t let you, tell me and I’ll go give it a strong talking to 🙂 [IOB: ina]

*unsurprisingly, this is a nom de plume – sometimes everyone needs a place to vent.  I happen to have a venting blog too, and no, I don’t link it to my name and, no, I haven’t and won’t link it to this blog. Which probably says something, don’t you think?

Connections: a little time with Daniel Ari

Please welcome the co-winner of our first  Poetry Prompt Contest, Daniel Ari. We first encountered Daniel’s vivid and unique poetry on (surprise, surprise) Robert Brewer’s blog, Poetic Asides. I couldn’t wait to get my little paws on Daniel’s chapbook, Monster Poems, and was so glad when I finally did. The stunning black-and-white, evocative illustrations (by Daniel’s talented spouse Lauren) and Daniel’s poetry have created a household favorite – something I read with my six-year-old time and time again, not because it’s a book for children, but because it’s a book that appeals to the Grimm imagination that lurks in all of us. So was I surprised his poem “this glamorous profession” was one of the stand-outs in the contest? No. Was I delighted to get to interview him –  oh, yes! And I know you, as readers, will enjoy his words, as well ![IOB]

IOB [ina]: What was the hardest thing about writing the poem you submitted?

DA: It’s funny because I wrote this in response to a call for submissions of poetry found in the prose of Patrick Sokas, M.D. His daughter decided to create a poetry anthology of found poems, and she posted several essays of his as the finding field for poets. I had never heard of Dr. Sokas before, but it seems that he published articles in The Oakland Tribune, a local paper for me, though his articles were printed long before I moved to the area.

Anyway, that was the score. The hardest thing was staying open to moments of poetry within his prose. I read several essays without sensing the spark. Then I caught a haiku, which was accepted for the anthology. I like “this glamorous profession” more than the haiku, but it may have still been too prosaic for the doctor’s daughter.

Once I found the piece—which also resonated with a poetry prompt at the “Poetic Asides” blog at Writersdigest.com—I had to give myself permission to glean the poem with finer tools than cut and paste. I excised some words from the middle and split some of the dialogue so that the speakers changed. In sum, I took time to tinker this into a poem I enjoyed. That’s not hard for me, though. I like to write poems slowly.

IOB: Who is a poet you admire a great deal, and why?

DA: There are many. On the top of my mind right now is Marna Hauk. She deeply engages her experience of being human on earth. What she writes is astonishingly transcendent, but human—not disengaged at all. She has the insight to write to the heart of experience without getting bogged down in her own emotions. And beyond that, her life’s work is about getting to the healing medicine found in poetry. She is an educator who collaborates in pioneering this kind of poetry-as-world-medicine field.

And that makes me think of Natalie Goldberg, whose poems I have actually never read, but I think of her as one of the writers who has influenced me most. In the same field as Marna, Natalie Goldberg’s take on writing—poetry or prose—or making art of any kind—is about healing and revealing on the larger scale. I think her book “Writing Down the Bones” is required reading for any writer.[note from ina: me, too!]

IOB: Where can people find more of your work?

Monster Poems poster; rights reserved by poster artists

DA: I post poems weekly at IMUNURI. I post other creative things sporadically at Fights With Poems. I’m also placing poems hither and yon. For recent online publications, you can search for me at Poetic Asides, Defenestration Magazine, ShufPoetry, and (I’m very proud of this 2007 publication) McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. In print, Issue 3 of 42 Magazine, issue one of The Wayfarer, and several recent issues of Conscious Dancer include my work.

IOB: Daniel, thank you so much for sharing your poetry and your time with us. We look forward  to hearing about the new places where your poems appear and can be seen, read, heard, and experienced!

Monday coffee: Ted Kooser on repairing your poem

poetry-home-repair.JPGI just finished reading Ted Kooser‘s The Poetry Home Repair Manual.  He’s one of my favorite poets (and not just because he’s from Nebraska), and every piece of advice he gives (with a couple of exceptions) is just right. And (those of you who write fiction), much of the book’s advice applies generally to creative writing.
This straight-forward instructional guide gives us insight into
Gwalia stores - Laden 6 Kaffee

This really IS a coffee grinder

  • how to choose and use a title
  • how to get rid of what Kooser calls the “warm up” (I call it scaffolding) – the stuff you needed to write to set up the poem, but that the reader doesn’t need to see (this is one example of something that’s really useful for fiction-writers)
  • how to keep from ruining a piece with “gush” or “sentiment”
  • your relationship with your readers
  • how to make sure you’re happy with the places that your work is published
  • when and how to use metaphor and simile and how to use them without jarring the reader out of the world you’re creating
  • the uses and limits of form

I was flattered to find out that some of this stuff I do by instinct (and amazed that there are formal ways to talk about it). I was appalled to find that a significant number of poems I’ve written that I love but that don’t work are victims of a really bad habit that, per Kooser, is something that underlies a lot of poetry that doesn’t work . And no, I’m not telling what that mistake is – it’s too embarrassing *blush*

But of course, being a “professional philosopher,” I can never leave something uncritiqued, and I’m going to point out those two places where I think he’s mistaken:

1) Kooser says that if you send something out four or five times, and it’s not accepted, there’s probably something wrong with the poem. He does qualify this by noting that you should make sure to send your work to appropriate places (I agree – otherwise it’s like not making sure the day care center you’ve chosen is for humans and not doggies).

But…there’s something about agents and editors: they’re all Homo sapiens. Like everyone else in our species, they let their tastes, dreams, and even their lives get in the way of appreciating good work. I sometimes amuse myself thinking of the number of ways 27 different slush pile readers probably kicked themselves when the first Harry Potter book sales figures were announced. An editor I know went through a crummy break-up, and during that time, woe betide the female poet who submitted to the journal he managed!  I suggest: make it the best poem you can, and then assume that you’re looking at 7 to 14 rejections before it’s accepted . After the 7th, or 10th, or 14 rejection take a serious look at whether the piece really has what it takes, needs a serious rework, or just needs to be put aside for awhile. If you critique it after every rejection, it’s hard to get the piece back out the door – and who needs to add to writer’s block that way?

2) Kooser treats using form as good exercise but (for the most part) something that distracts from the poem. While I do agree with him that form needs to be organically connected with the poem (as I’ve said before), I think he gives forms (and formal poetry) less credit than they deserve – much of the world’s most beautiful poetry is written within some form, and that says something.

Critique over, so now I’ll tell you that The Poetry Home Repair Manual has taken place next to the only other writing book I keep on my desk (Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones). Go out and buy a copy, and if you’re a broke writer (you know, like all of us) go out and make your local library buy a copy if they don’t have one already. Or if you’re local, come hit me up – I might even let it off my desk for you to borrow for a while.