March 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Author of the memoir, Thinking Up a Hurricane, Martinique Stilwell, pass on The Next Big Thing baton to several in a women writers listserv we share. This interlinked blog invites writers to answer questions about their latest book or next big thing:
What is your working title of your book?
The Pictures We’ll Never Print
Where did the idea come from for the book?
As a book of poems, the idea for the book was discovered as I put together my manuscript for my MFA. I was shocked to realize had over 50 poems from my time in the program and before, mostly about my parents’ illnesses and deaths. I found that when arranged in certain ways, I had been writing about excavating the questions I never got questions to about my personal history and about figuring out who I am without the resistance of parents to push back against or to be that loving/nagging voice in your ear. My mentor at the time, Doug Kearney, was key in teaching me how to create various stories through the sequencing of the poems.
I guess the idea for the poems came out of my grieving. I started the MFA a year after my mother died.
What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. Confessional, lyrical, some are formal and others are experimental. It is a representation of the working out of identity.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
My mother would be played by Shirley MacLaine, because my loved her and would want that. My father by Javier Bardem, mainly so I could get a chance to meet him, but really, he, more than any other actor, can morph himself into anyone. The I of the book would be portrayed by Holly Hunter because she could bring the right mix of strength and vulnerability.
Perhaps this will be the first poetry book made into a movie. Has that been done?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An orphaned 1st generation Hungarian-American sifts through the legacies of grief and illness to redefine herself.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am seeking a publisher by submitting to various poetry book contests and small presses.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I was just updating my acknowledgements page and the first poem from the manuscript to be published was three years ago. I started many of the poems, or other versions of them, as my mother was dying and that was six years ago this weekend.
I’ve spent the last two summers in major revisions. I really love revising, so likely, if I don’t find a publisher this summer, it may once again become a different story. Just when I think I got it done, I surprise myself by writing a new poem or expanding poems or cutting poems.
But this asked about the first draft. It is such its own living organism, I don’t know when the first draft came together. Three years sounds about right. Plus three years of revising.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It feels like hubris to compare my work to the poets I so admire. Moreover, the influences are so varied and subtle, it is difficult to untangle them. Poets I turned to in order to learn how to write about grief and hope include Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe (What the Living Do), and Terry Blackhawk (The Dropped Hand). I also read a lot of fiction that inspired me to try to get to the root of experience and emotion, such as The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I started writing, just writing not this book necessarily, just before my mother died. I wrote because I did not know what else to do and realized that the passion and the creative outlet I had been seeking much of my life is writing, specifically writing poetry. This manuscript is a sort of artifact of processing loss (not just my mother’s death, but many losses left undigested) and falling in love, in this case, with writing.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Though many of the poems have been revised extensively, I think the collection of poems from such a vast period of my writing life reflects the arc of the book, as much as a poetry book might have an arc. While there are themes and imagery that weaves the poems into a book, the forms and styles are quite varied. It will either please or frustrate formalist and free-verse poets equally. Hopefully it will open the readers’ own unhealed place of mourning and let them know that healing it is possible, though not easy. Not that I have special insight into this realm of experience, but, like in a yoga class where a teacher asks you to consider a pose in a new way or from a new perspective and suddenly this pose you thought you knew and had mastered opens up in a new way, at once becoming more difficult and more liberating.
This post is something like tag or a relay race and probably has some special internet name I don’t know about (today I learned that FML means more than fix my lighthouse). Read about the Next Big Thing for these talented writers: Khadija Anderson and Heather Luby.
July 23, 2012 § 1 Comment
I think I took Patty Tokahuta-Kelsey’s message at the 8:15 service on Sunday a bit too literally.
She talked about how we clear space in our lives for God, the need for rest, for retreating to our own personal desert.
So, I spent Sunday afternoon clearing space.
I started with a project that I’ve been longing to do for a while: consolidating and alphabetizing all my poetry books onto one bookcase. Before, I had the books I have not read downstairs on a high shelf (every time I read one poem or get a recommendation for a new poet, I’d buy a book; poetry books are savored as much as read, often need to be read in bites, a poem at a time, hence, many remain unread), and the rest scattered between several shelves on various bookcases (I have a total of 6 bookcases in my studio), so that when I thought of a poet and want to find their book, it took time. I want to be able to quickly find the poet I am looking in one place easily, just like in the library (well, if my students would master the dewey decimal system). Now they are all here:
Yes, these are all my poetry books, except for anthologies (what? poetry comes in something other than an anthology!) and critical work about poetry/writing. Those are mostly here (along with the graphic novels, which are another kind of poetry):
This led to a complete re-organization of everything from my other bookshelves — — and closet (no, not putting those pictures up … trust me, it is immaculate). Resulting in a pile to give to GoodWill or other charities:
And the fortuitous recovery of my vintage phone:
Fortuitous because my cordless phone can no longer hold a charge (not that many call on the landline). Still, this lovely, non-electronic phone works like a charm. Better than most cell phones. And if some natural disaster occurs, when electricity is out (but not phone lines –is that possible these days?) and your cell has died, I will let you all come use my phone.
I would find a picture, evidence of its vintage status, of it in my college dorm room, but I have to go pick-up another bookcase.
July 18, 2012 § 2 Comments
“Art is not a skill contest, nor an innovation contest. Art is an honesty contest. If we can be precisely who we are, in the most intimate and candid and courageous way, we will start to connect to the universal…” Ran Ortner
Visiting the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain was a personal quest. (I love Dali’s paintings and have visited the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, FL numerous times since my family lives there.) So is getting my poetry manuscript done and published.
This year I felt obligated to myself and to all my voyeuristic friends to go.
Kate Maruyama says becoming a writer can make a person agoraphobic.
A week before leaving for , I sat in on poetry lectures and readings at Antioch University, my alma mater, supporting several poet friends who were graduating. The quote of the week seemed to be from an article in The Sun by Ran Ortner:
“Art is an honesty contest.”
To be precisely who I am, to be honest, I would have admitted I am a homebody, that my tolerance for living as a traveler is two weeks, unless visiting family.
To be honest, I don’t write much away from my desk (unless in school or at a workshop), I become obsessed with maps and agendas and must-see sights out of worry of chastisement from friends back home.
“What, you didn’t eat paella every night?”
“And Tapas? and did you go the Museo de Jamon?” (that is actual the name of a chain of restaurants)
I tried to conjure romantic images of me writing in an apartment overlooking the Alhambra.
(Somewhere in all this I am also supposed to meet my husband. All this conjuring and voyeuristic projection left me tired and anxious.)
To be honest, I find the inward journey of writing to be incompatible with the outward journey of traveling. I am not sure I make the cut as an artist, being a homebody with incessant anxiety of writing and travel. I had forgotten in my time since graduation from Antioch what it means to be an artist. Whether it is an honesty or skill or originality, I didn’t want to admit I was failing.
Travel, particularly solo travel, forces us to be honest. Once in Spain, I realized it was my trip and I could do what I wanted. What did I want? To see the Dali museum and then go home and re-discipline myself in writing.
The part of the trip I was most excited about was volunteering to converse with Spaniards studying English for a week in a remote medieval village turned resort near Soria. Here, there was nothing to do, except for the assigned conversations, and my brain, for the first time in ages, was allowed to turn off, to fully relax. This allowed me to listen to what Spain had to say.
When not at the VaughanTown retreat, I immersed myself into being a tourist, visiting the key sites in Madrid and Barcelona, many of which revolve around prominent Spanish artists: Dali, Gaudi, and Picasso. I spontaneously bought tickets for a classical guitar concert at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Pi. I let go of the idea that I had to write while traveling.
Yet I was still a writer. And if reading is writing, as my mentor taught me, then listening to music and viewing art is a form of reading.
The exhibitions in Spain are not just about the masterpieces, but the masters themselves and the process of art. It is a lesson in being an artist.
Dali drew me to Spain to learn something.
Art can happen anywhere, even at home. Especially at home. Americans often seem to think that everything is easier in Europe, particularly creating art and finding love. After all, in Europe, they have long vacations, they speak strange languages, they produce great artists. Sure, it was the thing back in the day to be an expat artist. Maybe it still is. However, as C.S. Lewis notes, it is what makes us unique that makes us special. The more I travel, the more I marvel how I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth: California. Gaudi created art in his hometown. And intentionally kept it there (he was a Catalonia nationalist). Though Picasso and Dali traveled extensively, they also created art at home, in Spain, often in small villages from where they came. Being away from their roots, from home, wherever home was at the moment, did not make their art. Art happened wherever they were. It was part of their being. The key is keeping open the mind and heart’s eye to be inspired. Traveling often is a means to remind ourselves how to do this, but it is the inward journey that produces the art and, for me, this is most likely to happen once I return to the sanctuary of my own home.
(It takes work, this outward and inward journeying. While art may not be a skill contest, it does require a study of skills and tools.
Mastering the sonnet does not make one a poet, but any poet will grow from mastering at least one sonnet.)
Artists must be diligent. Picasso, whose father was a painter, started painting at a young age (at 15 he won an Honorary Mention at Madrid’s General Fine Arts Exhibition and Gold medal in Malaga for his painting “Science and Charity”). In the Picasso museum in Barcelona, one can see that young Picasso (and well, Picasso at any stage) painted anything on everything. Portraits on wood, landscapes on napkins. Dali, Goya, all the masters, if you see enough of their work you know, tried painting from every style, medium, perspective, at times finding genius for which they are ‘known’ and at times finding only mediocrity, which we even bother to hang in a museum out of curiosity due to that work of genius. For example, I thought Picasso rather than Dali as I approached this work in the Reina Sofia: (I do not consider myself even a novice expert on art, so maybe the surprise is must my ignorance). Dali did not start off as one of the primary surrealist painters. I wonder if there was a time when each was frustrated as they grew out of preconceived boxes of how others saw their art. For example, since I entered my MFA program with a manuscript of formal poetry, many there think of me as a formalist, though it has been a long time since I have written formal poetry (I often use it as a starting point, but rarely does it end formally). Art is a willingness to try every tool and a willingness to experiment beyond comfort zones to find which combinations work. And to find the pleasure in discovering something new, on the canvas or in the self.
Creating art needs focus, at times, obsession. Gaudi kept working with the same principles of physics, of hyperbolic and elliptical structures, with symbols of Catalonian patriotism, with blurring art for pure aesthetics and functional art. The only break he took from his work was to attend mass twice a day. Which also dispels myths that brilliant artists are faithless and hedonistic. In fact, looking at his desk at the time of his death, I have vowed to not mop my floor or drink wine until I finish this essay, and to feel good about that decision. Obsession with one’s work can be good (maybe not to the point of neglecting housework for more than a few days). However, we are taught to think of masterpieces as original works from some kind of divine inspiration. Yet, Picasso produced over 14 versions of an imitation of Velasquez’s Las Meninas. He painted her realistically, abstractly, childishly, close-ups, full reproductions, with and without the attendants. Suddenly, the 20 versions of a poem in my files seem appropriate.
Interestingly, Dali also paid homage to Velasquez’s Las Meninas.
Which is the next lesson: Art is dialogue and artists do not work in isolation. Artists respond to and inspire each other, as we see with Las Meninas. It is imitation, emulation, an exercise, a re-imagining, a re-visioning of someone else’s personal made universal through art. Sometimes, crazy as it sounds, artists collaborate, such as this sculpture by Dali and Man Ray. Sure, it is not a radical idea that artists collaborate, except when held against the myth of the reclusive artists (not to be confused with introverted). The Reina Sofia audio tour and curation emphasize the dialogue and connection of art to society and of artists to each other. Each room is not simply an exhibition of one artist, one movement, or a chronological presentation, but a lesson in how art lives in the world, displaying pieces from various artists, various time periods, and various genres to track how the progress and evolution of techniques, theories, and philosophies of art. The audio guide poses rhetorical questions that artists and society were grappling with in that time period rather than merely describing the paintings on the walls. Artists interact and live in this world and in community of artists. Dali, as is seen in his museum and his ability to market art, does not distinguish between high art and mainstream culture. He frames a picture with sandals and plastic cherries, a choice that reminds us he is ‘just like us,’ or at least that the world of art should not be exclusive and separate from our everyday lives. Gaudi also reminds us of this in the swirling sculptures of the chimneys and air vents of the Casa Mila. And Barcelona 4 Guitars reminds us that even classical guitar concerts are about the celebrating being alive, being creative beings as they ham (the Spaniards do love their Jamon!) it up between numbers, use familiar pop and rock tunes as transitions, and offer an encore medley that includes all four playing one guitar, an electric guitar, cell phone interruptions, opera, and Jerry Lee Lewis impersonations.
Art and life must be able to co-exist.
And this is the final lesson: art is about finding and conveying joy, even if it is the joy of breathlessness of this painting that captures grief, or the melancholy rendition of Serenade, or a poem about my inability to not worry.
This is just part of the story from part of the world. For whatever reason, it was the part that I was drawn to this summer. I was meant to be in the Sagrada Famalia late that hot afternoon when the light created a slow motion fireworks display through the white marble and stone. And to be in Figueres to know that sometimes the best is closest to home. To do what I love without question or judgment or fear and to do it everyday. To write about everything on anything available.
One of the first things I read in my jetlag recovery was this quote from Emily Rapp’s Salon.com article shared on FB:The world can be a horrible place at times, but we don’t have to participate in this, we don’t have to harden our hearts as we’re taught and told to do, in order to survive or be sexy or attractive lovers or perfect parents or interesting people. We do not have to make ourselves into mysterious gifts, waiting to be chosen or read or understood by those who will earn us, unwrap our secrets, and then what? We can be something more authentic, and speak from a different place, a different planet. This is why I like being a writer, because what it demands is both simple and incredibly hard. To be a human being. Does anyone even know what that means anymore?
Had I not gone to Spain, I would have read and loved this. However, after Spain, where I had to choose what parts of being an artist are authentic for me, I know a bit more about refusing to wait to be read or chosen, and this, perhaps, brings me one step closer to beating myself in this honesty contest.
Though as a psychic told my friend’s daughter, “remember that you are the prize, not the contestant.”
April 6, 2012 Enter your password to view comments.
April 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This mornings prompt include an Epithalamium (a wedding poem) and a visitor poem. I am discovering I like to combine prompts as one is not enough direction and form for me, but two create a challenge, a new world. Kind of like thos 24-hr movies that give 5 parameters. Anything less would be just like sitting down and writing from ‘inspiration.’ I have little of that lately.
A wedding poem. My first thought was that God really loves to laugh at me, to mock me, to say something like “I hear you, Lisa, but I am not going to do what you want until it is my idea.” Sounds all too familiar. I wrote a poem where I am visiting my own wedding. It is one of those where poetry seems to cross to far into thearapy and there (or maybe it is the confessional critics voice that I, particuarly as a woman writer, cannot purge completely from my head).
However, I remembered I wrote this poem. I was the visitor at Khadija Anderson’s wedding (another fabulous poet) and wrote a wedding poem for her, her husband, and their lovely family. I guess that means I can finish my coffee and continue on my roadtrip knowing day three poem is out.
April 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
“Can you remember? when we thought
the poets taught how to live?”
from “Poetry: I” by Adrienne Rich
Today’s prompt was to write a poem from the #1 song of the year you were born. I wanted to get out for my day’s excursion (I am road tripping around CA on my spring break), so I pasted the lyrics of A Horse With No Name, a song with terrible grammar and fabulous desert imagery, into word with the intention of doing an erasure poem.
As I drove through the countryside of Sonoma County to Point Reyes (the drive to the lighthouse through the park was almost as long as the drive to the park), I this desert imagery contrasted with the fertile landscape of the farms, hills, river, and coastline. There is a hostility to the desert, a place I love but cannot tolerate, physically, for long. Equally remote, I thought I could live in the countryside where the rolling green hills, the trees that remind me to not resist the direction of the wind, and the water all make it easier to breathe.
Not sure where to go with this poem. Maybe I will look at some prompts and hope these contrasts of imagery will come together into something. Maybe I will rewrite the song with a car and the countryside. Maybe I will do the erasure.
Update (two hours later): I went with the map prompt, writing a poem about something I really did not want to dwell on tonight, ending with this:
I wish my mouth as big as the moon
My lips settle for the crumbs of him.
April 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
It is NaPoWriMo . . . I believe that is short for National Poetry Writing Month, though really it is just National Poetry Month. So if you don’t want to write a poem a day, maybe write one poem or read a poem (a day would be nice), and definitely buy a book of poems. Not one of those anthology greeting card poems or pithy lines, but a book from the poetry section. You can look on my main site for some books I’ve read recently or check out Annotation Nation Poetry for poetry books that have influenced other poets.
Yesterday I did the prompt and wrote a little triolet (loved finding a new form I never heard of) about the beautiful Puerto Rican Bomba I attended at midnight in Berkley, California, thanks to the invite from the breathtakingly talented Sandra Garcia Rivera. I am honored to be surrounded by such fabulous artists in my life.
But I digress. My little triolet was my first poem and I like it. It has potential. Last year a series about Buffy the Vampire Slayer emerged and after sharing the poem, I realize that it may continue as I did use some slayer imagery in this triolet.
I won’t necessarily be posting my poems here because that is not what this blog is about, but I encourage you to visit the NaPoWriMo site to try a poem on your own. I also check out sites like Verse Daily, Poetry Foundation, and Poets.org to read a poem a day. I will likely post reflections of my efforts to write a poem a day. Little teasers for poems to come.