on poetry

August 2, 2020

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”
James Baldwin
(August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987)

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photo by Allan Warren

on poetry

July 29, 2020

“Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping
a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”
Don Marquis
(July 29, 1878 – December 29, 1937)

. . . . .

on poetry

July 16, 2020

“Mine is not an obedient writing. I think that literature as any art has to be irreverent.”
Reinaldo Arenas
(July 16, 1943 – December 7, 1990)

. . . . .
photo: Nestor Almendros

how we write

July 12, 2020

Not long ago, we mentioned Rob McLennan and his latest project, Periodicities. Not one to rest on his laurels, McLennan started another new series of essays (“Talking Poetics”) on the ottawa poetry newsletter blog, inviting poets to talk about the nuts and bolts of writing. “I like hearing how different writers consider structuring poems, and the decision-making processes that go into poems starting, continuing and going further,” he says. The writers allow us to peek into something that is otherwise quite private and unseen.

Have a look at the 22 (to date) short essays on Talking Poetics.

on poetry

July 2, 2020

“I prefer the absurdity of writing poems/
to the absurdity of not writing poems.”
Wisława Szymborska
(July 2, 1923 – February 1, 2012)

. . . . .
photo: Piotr Guzik
quote from “Possibilities”

on poetry

June 13, 2020

“Work, work, work — don’t be afraid to make things that are unsuccessful or ‘bad.’ Observe everything around you and store up its inspirations, so you don’t have to wait for inspiration to arrive — it’s simply and hopefully always present. Learn from others. Learn by copying. Learn always by doing. Introduce yourself to your voice at the right time. Be honest with yourself. For the times you can’t or don’t know how to do this, have someone or someones that can, and listen to them. You don’t have to let the audience dictate what you create, but you do need to have an audience who will receive what you create. This is good and a wealth of a classroom. Give. Follow your heart and that which will make it happy. Don’t be afraid—be fearless in risk-taking. Don’t be afraid to go the movies by yourself or eat in public alone. Ride your bicycle with a helmet. Don’t be a dick.”
Anis Mojgani
(b. June 13, 1977)

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Hilde Franzsen photo

If you’ve always wanted to attend the Chuckanut Writers Conference but just couldn’t swing it geographically, here comes your opportunity! CWC 2020 will be held online, Monday, June 22, 2020, through Thursday, June 25, with a faculty reading on the 26th and master classes on the 27th. See the complete schedule, faculty profiles, and registration information at CWC 2020.

on poetry

April 14, 2020

“I’ve always said that you know you’re a poet when you type an em dash and you hit the delete button, and you type a colon and you hit the delete button, and you type an em dash and you hit the delete button, and you type a colon and you hit the delete button. If you can do that for about three hours straight, trying to figure out which one is the best one, if you can do that for three hours and call that a good time, then you’re probably a poet.”
Jericho Brown
(b. April 14, 1976)

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This is a guest post by Rena Priest.

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.” Virginia Woolf

I first read this quote from “A Room of One’s Own” while lounging in a bathtub in Spokane. I was 19, and it was cold, and a hot bath was the best, cheapest way to stay warm. I was very poor, and this idea that writing what you wanted was more precious than silver, well, it was exhilarating.

For many years I stayed true. I said as much of what I wanted to say as my abilities would allow. But recently, I’ve felt daunted by having so little to show for the years and effort I’ve devoted to writing. What I “want” to write has changed. I no longer want to write the truth in my soul. My soul has too much grief, too many expletives, and not enough flowers, birds, or sunsets to appeal to mainstream poetry audiences.

These days, I want to write the kind of poem that I can screen print on a pillow and sell on Instagram by the truckload. I want to write a sing-song children’s book that will fly off the shelves like hot-cakes so that I can cast off the shackles of my student loans.

Last year, for the first time, I made sacrifices from the hair of the head of my vision and went for the silver pot. At the urging of a colleague, I applied for and was awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society to write about a captive killer whale. I did the work. I researched, and I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again until I had a draft of something that someone else would perhaps pay money to read.

In the beginning, it wasn’t writing that I wanted to do so much as writing that must be done. I was doing it for the cause, and the byline. Eventually, the story drew me in. It raised questions in me. I became deeply invested in the whale’s fate. The more I learned about her, the more imperative it became to share her story. Nothing has ever felt so important to get right as the story of this whale, and I have never been so engrossed or challenged in my writing.

In the end, my vision aligned with the work, bringing me to this conclusion: If you don’t want to write something, you’ll half-ass it for a while until you chuck it and start over, or you won’t do it. But if you give yourself to the writing — authentically give yourself to it — you’ll be true to your vision. It can’t be otherwise. Not “a shade of its colour” will be sacrificed.

Publishing, however, is a whole other story. 😉

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Read “A captive orca and a chance for our redemption” by Rena Priest, just published in High Country News.

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Rena Priest is a poet and a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. Her literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with a 2018 American Book Award. Her most recent collection, Sublime Subliminal, was published by Floating Bridge Press. Priest’s work can be found in literary journals and anthologies including: For Love of Orcas, Pontoon, and Poetry Northwest. She has attended residencies at Hawthornden Castle, Hedgebrook, and Mineral School. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a Jack Straw Writer (2019). She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

on poetry

March 31, 2020

“The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”
Marge Piercy
(b. March 31, 1936)

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