Writing Process Blog Tour

July 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, the brave, lyrical, and all-around fabulous essayist/poet/dear friend, Jacqui Morton, tagged me to continue this tour.  I am sure she thought since I was on summer vacation I would promptly meet the one week deadline to post, but without a daily schedule I lost track days and weeks.  I also have this other graduate program (MLIS) and important vacation obligations to meet, like jet skiing with my sister and brother-in-law and visiting my nephew in Orlando.

What is a blog tour?  Here are the instructions that were passed on to me:

“A writer answers a few questions about how and why and what they write, and then they ask a pal or three to do the same, and as the weeks go by, more and more of us share our precious secrets about the creative process, until eventually, probably in like mid-September, we all simultaneously self-actualize.

Indeed, weeks have gone by.  I can’t wait for mid-September.  In the meantime, here what I do to justify calling myself a poet/writer.

1.  What are you working on?

I am working on the final touches to my chapbook manuscript, Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due out in November from Dancing Girl Press.  I am also working on new poems (less love lessons and more political) to go along with the love lessons to make a full-length manuscript of poems all somehow filtered through Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I also have an essay I am working on, which I may or may not decide to share publicly.   Also part of the writing work, the end of the writing process, is trying to get my first manuscript published.  Finally, there are some miscellaneous newer poems from April’s poem-a-day challenge that at least give me hope I will have new projects in the future.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

It is very difficult for me to be objective about my work in this way.  I would say that, looking at both manuscripts, the style and voice are quite different, as are the themes and subject matter, so maybe the range of my work is something that is different.  My first book (yet to find a publisher) is much more personal, about my heritage and family, about illness and death and identity.  The Buffy poems are much more bold and witty (or so I like to think, perhaps), utilizing syntax, slang, and imagery from the show.  They voice is less easy to pin down which reflects the looser form (the first book contains more formal poems).  Though I often will read poems years later and catch myself in my own delusion, perhaps something that makes my work different is its honesty, or at least the sincerity of the struggle to be honest, to get to the marrow of the matter (whatever that matter is).

3.  Why do you write what you write?

Usually I don’t know really know.  Later, after I wrote it, it is because I needed to — I needed to release it, understand it, figure it out, hold up the beauty of it — or the horror of it — whatever it is.   That said, there is a lot that is written that no one will ever see.  Which makes it sound salacious, but really, when I die, it is more likely if anyone looks at it the hard drive will be thrown in the trash that with everything else no one can figure out why I saved.  I am okay with that.

4. How does your writing process work?

To some extent, I honestly do not know.  I am big on revising and not so great with starting new poems, so when I look at poems that are published or that I am working on now, sometimes I don’t know how they started.   Again, it goes back to that need to work something out or capture the awe or awfulness of something, to illuminate or transform it.    Since, like with most writers, writing is what happens between all the other obligations of being a human (work, other studies, interacting with others, trying to be healthy and interact with the world around me), I find the writing process works best when it becomes part of the routine, when I do not “wait” for inspiration, but summons it by showing up regularly.  Starting about January of 2014, to my own shock, I became the writer who got up before dawn to write before the rest of the day started.  It is only about 45 minutes or an hour, but it is daily and it is done for the day.  It worked really well, but ironically, since summer break started, I stopped getting up early and the writing has been more sporadic.  Now I am traveling and I don’t get writing done when I travel.  I also spent the last two Aprils doing the poem-a-day challenge which generated some interesting new work and opened new directions in voice/style/subject matter using various prompts (so I guess prompts are a stimulus for new poetry).  I will say, regarding prompts, I am not good at following the rules and usually like to combine two so they don’t sound like a-poem-from-a-prompt.  And also so I can write what I want and how I want, but a prompt gives an edge to leverage against when starting out from scratch.  The process is like this response — you set a destination to get you on the road, but end up where you least expected.

I now pass this on two women I admire greatly as writers, women who inspire, support, challenge, and astound me:  Tisha Reichle and Sharon Venezio.  I am also going to pass this on to my co-conspirator, the talented and prolific, Ashley Perez.  Like me, they may not meet the one week deadline, but I look forward to self-actualizing with them in September.   And read their work (and Jacqui’s).  Buy Sharon’s book (which I reviewed at The Rumpus) and follow Tisha so you can pre-order her book when it comes out.

Happy, National Poetry Month (not for April’s Fools)!

April 1, 2014 § 5 Comments

I have a group of poets who, once again, are attempting various forms of the National Poetry Month Poem-A-Day Challenge.   Some will do a poem a day, some will simply aim to write everyday.

For me, this is the time of year I turn to new prompts.  Here are some I found for the 2014 Challenge (and a few old favorites, perhaps):

Oulipost from Found Poetry Review

NaPoWritMo I might use this first one everyday … could be an interesting series.

Poetry Asides

Poetry Is Everything

WXW 30/30



Top Lit Mags that REALLY do publish emerging writers

December 8, 2013 § Leave a comment


This is a great acknowledgement of LitMags that really are working to bring established and emerging writings together. I am also reblogging it so I can reference it later. Thanks, Michaelalexanderchaney!

Originally posted on michaelalexanderchaney:


Baltimore Review It is always nice to see a prestigious journal publish fresh, new voices. Such is the case on a routine basis for the Baltimore Review. Most recently, you can check out Priyatam Mudivarti’s “Blue Flame.”  It’s a beautifully weird and hauntingly rich story about aging, photography, and death:

At ninety-two, when I close my eyes and suck my breath, I see fire and ash, playing in smoke.

At the count of one hundred: a mountain, the remains of the cut down trees, a man with a beard and without any clothes, rotting under his limbs.

At one hundred and one, my body grows fiery, as if a log from the pyre rolled into my spine and burned my chest.

One hundred and seven. My heart comes to a full stop. I learned to stop my breath. My chest expands out of my ribs, stretches my neck.

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The Next Big Thing

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.

What Poet-Librarians do on Vacation

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.

The art of Spain and reflections from the plane

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.



I postponed this trip last year in order to complete my manuscript.

This year I felt obligated to myself and to all my voyeuristic friends to go.

(My manuscript remains unpublished and needs another summer of revision.) 

Artists and independent women are carefree nomads who explore the world and write in a whirlwind of Romantic encounters.

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.

This is what he wanted me to know:

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.”

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