Tinyletters

I like tinyletters. I subscribe to a couple, and am delighted every time one of them arrives in my inbox. Which is rather infrequently; the ones I subscribe to don’t seem to have any regular schedule. They just show up. Which just adds to the delight.

Manjula Martin’s three cents is my favorite right now. Probably because it just arrived.

Among the interesting and quirky things she shares — thoughts on the punk band Fugazi and book tours and what if you’re done doing the thing that brought you to this place — was a link to this column by Tess Taylor from Poets & Writers, in which Taylor interviewed three publicists to find out how writers might go about sharing their work with the world. The answers were surprising to me, which is one reason I’m sharing it with you.

The other reason is that, late in the piece, Taylor included a lovely line from a follow-up letter she wrote to one of her interviewees, publicist Lauren Cerand. Taylor was responding to a question Cerand likes to ask of writers seeking publicity: “What do you want that you don’t have?”

It’s such an important question, because success doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. We can’t assume that what I want is what you want. And sometimes we don’t know what we want. And sometimes we don’t want what we think we want. So it’s helpful to ponder and not just react.

Think on it. Sit with it. Write on it.

In her letter to Cerand, Taylor’s wrote,

“I want poetry that brings us back to the body, back to the breath, back to each other.”

This was Cerand’s reply:

“Why don’t you find a church or public space in your community and try to host a really simple family-friendly reading? Once a month, a kind of deeply community-inspired poetry outreach? (…) You could include music and food. People could relax.”

I swear, it’s like they’re having this conversation just for me.

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Notebooks

Notebooks are my tool of choice as a writer.

I usually have three, sometimes four, going at once.

There’s the notebook I keep on my desk, next to my laptop. It contains notes and to-do lists — short ones, because long to-do lists fill me with anxiety. I like a list with two or three items and not a lot of urgency.

If something is urgent, it doesn’t go on the to-do list, because seeing it there every day will make me anxious. Urgent things just need to get done. Like, now. Right?

The notebook on my art table is my moodling notebook. I grab it when I need to think about a project, when I need to brainstorm, when I want to work out the flow of a piece of writing before I sit down at the keyboard.

Sometimes if I get deep enough into a project, it’ll get its own notebook. The café had its own notebook for the first several months, while it was incarnating, and we had a lot to discuss.

When I work on fiction, it tends to begin in the moodling book, and then it graduates to its own notebook, where it might live for a long time before getting a document file on the laptop. Sometimes it never gets a document file. I’m thinking of a particular piece of fiction that has lived for years in its spiral notebook, comfortable there, like a crone in a cottage. It doesn’t want to be digitized.

Poetry, on the other hand, is always composed at the keyboard. It never gets a notebook.

Finally, there’s my Morning Pages notebook. That’s the one I write in every day, and have for 20 years. I don’t always do the recommended three pages. Sometimes there’s only time for a page and a half before I have to go to work. But the daily part, that’s sacrosanct. Except for that one time when I didn’t write anything longer than my name for weeks and weeks. That’s when I was in the Upside Down. Or something.

Morning Pages are the notebooks I burned a few years ago, when turning everything to ash made a certain sense. Somewhere in the garage is the crate of spiral bindings I pulled all the pages from before throwing them onto the bonfire.

I’ve since switched to comp books. Perhaps anticipating a more thorough burn next time.

The Breakup Poems

I don’t know how other writers proceed, but my own process is a circuitous one that winds along rivers and wanders through woodland and ends up in back yards, usually my own. I seldom know where I’m going until I get there, and even then it takes time to realize this is the place.

My new collection of poems is available now. Wander with me, if you like.

Breakup Poems

Scratch

What do you do when the thing you’ve been doing doesn’t work for you anymore? If it ever worked at all. This is what I’m wondering.

I like the word “scratch.” It’s a noun: what the cat will give you when you annoy her. It’s a verb: what you do to get relief from an itch. It’s a slang term for money. It connotes beginnings and basics, as in starting from scratch, and baking from scratch.

I was making up a little recipe book the other day, a gift for a friend. A couple of the recipes I included require a food processor, and it occurred to me to wonder, does she have one of those? Another one calls for an immersion blender. Hello?

Even in recipes there is privilege, there are assumptions.

I have a food processor, an immersion blender. So I’m not starting from scratch, per sé. But I am leaving a work situation that has pulled me for the past two years down a path of depletion. The predictable end is less a bang than a whimper. My finances are exhausted, my energy is spent.

That’s another word that resonates: spent.

I wrestle with the fallacy of sunk costs. Also called throwing good money after bad, and, in gambling circles, chasing your losses. It refers to the often-inexplicable human tendency to keep on keeping on, even when every indicator says you really need to not do this anymore.

(cf. climate change; also, bad romance.)

So I’m not going to do it anymore, that job that doesn’t work, that never really worked except in my Palace of Magical Thinking.

Now I’m in the other part of the castle, the less lovely part, where it’s a bit damp and full of shadow and uncomfortably close to starting from scratch, and I’m not liking it so much.

Still, I have two books that are approaching completion. One is a new poetry collection, tentatively titled The Breakup Poems and Other Attempts to Address This Ridiculously Dysfunctional Life (jk, sort of). The other is a book about my coffeehouse, the one I started when I first moved to the Midwest. I’m calling that one Mud River, which is the name of my publishing company, which was itself named after the little newsletter I used to print (on paper! c’est vrai!) when I ran that coffeehouse.

All my life’s a circle. Harry Chapin said that.

If you’d like to help me get these books across the finish line, you can make a donation to the Fund to Keep the Poet Fed, for which I will be most grateful. You can also leave a comment on this post, which is nourishing in its own right.

Thank you.

We Do What We Do

I have a friend who takes to the woods each morning with her camera. She photographs insects and snakeskin and dew on spiderwebs, orange daylilies opening themselves to the world, fiddleheads unfurling, bones of a long-dead creature disintegrating under a canopy of cottonwoods and bramble. Every day there are new things to see.

I have no skill with a camera.

I write poems.

I hear the birds in the elm across the yard, a conclave, starlings and mockingbirds and cardinals and finches. The rattling hum of cicadas and the baritone murmur of a barge on the river, passing by. Some days the birds have a lot to say. Some days they don’t. I try to get it down, either way.

In the space between my kitchen window and the outside screen a spider has amassed an impressive collection of dead bodies wrapped in silk, suspended by threads invisible except in a certain light, morning light. My coffee goes cold in my cup as I watch her move her parcels from one part of her web to another, grouping them like sculpture, to what purpose I can only guess.

I don’t drink much. But I love this song all the same. We do what we do. Fish swim, birds fly. My friend takes lovely photos. I write poems. And you?

It’s Very You

I sent a copy of Beautiful Terrible World to my mother. Today she called to tell me what she thought of it.

“It sounds like you. You always did care about the environment, and you never liked war. The one about the school shooter was sad. I laughed at the line about not liking ballroom dancing because you didn’t want some boy to push you around. It’s very you.”

Best. Review. Ever.

This is My Radio Voice

I hung out on the radio for a bit last month with my buddy and local npr-affiliate show host John Gibson, talking about Beautiful Terrible World and reading a couple poems from it. You’ll find me in the last 10 or 12 minutes or so of the hour.

The big celeb of the show that day was author Brian Kimberling, whose book Snapper was just released in paperback. He gets more time than I do, which is only right, but I do think I have the better radio voice.

Beautiful Terrible World is available in print and ebook. (No audiobook yet. But I’m thinking about it…)