For Whose Eyes and Ears

February 20, 2021

This is a guest post
by Jed Myers

In the lore of therapy, it’s said a person’s emotional state will improve with keeping a journal. The benefit holds even if the journal entries are never shared with another soul. Does that mean we need only ever spell things out for ourselves alone? Or does it mean that the act of writing is so fundamentally relational, no actual other is needed for the experience of being heard and understood by another?

Words have evolved for the conveyance of one being’s experience to another. So even when we speak in our imaginations, talk to ourselves, or write our private entries, we are invoking the presence of another, however invisible.

I do wonder, for whose eyes do we place the words of our reflections on the page? In whose ears do we hope our written words will ring? And whose are the minds and hearts we want to stir with what we’ve written?

I’m sure there’s no simple or single answer to any such questions. But I’m also sure — from tuning in to my own process of writing, if by nothing else — that there is an envisioned other, or a collection of others, that we’ve got a representation of in the wings of the act of writing, to whom, in the writing, we’re speaking.

Maybe this goes against a kind of purist’s notion of writing only for oneself. I don’t know. It could be that an implicit other just like oneself, a mirror twin, so to speak, is such a purist’s other. The writing that would emerge in that spirit might be more idiosyncratic, harder for the rest of us to “get,” but it might be in its own way just right — the words chosen and arranged for the dear twin who will understand perfectly.

Then there’s the writing for a different other, or for a gathering (in the mind’s amphitheater) of others of varied sensibilities. Perhaps these are the presences some of us want to touch with our words. These imagined others might stand in for real expectable readers in the world. We can’t be sure how they’ll hear us, as we don’t know just how they think and feel. How will our poems ring with them?

That question’s at my shoulder while I work out my lines. It can serve to press me, word by word, closer to the marrow, where I’ll find more intuitive sureness of common feeling, even across cultures and times.

I like to invite one odd other to the gathering and to be sure that figure’s listening — a guest from some time in the future, when my life’s been over long enough that those who’ve remembered me are gone. I reach for what might make that other grateful to have stumbled onto my words. I’ll write what I need to say — as if in my journal — that will also close the rift of space and time, so that my guest might feel that a hundred years ago is more or less last week. That’s what I feel sometimes reading Sappho or Du Fu — the intimacy of distant solitudes.

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Jed Myers lives in Seattle, where, aside from writing, he’s a psychiatrist with a therapy practice and a Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Washington. He’s author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press), and four chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels (Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award) and Love’s Test (winner, Grayson Books Chapbook Contest). Recognitions include Southern Indiana Review’s Editors’ Award, the Prime Number Magazine Award, The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Prize, and The Tishman Review’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize. Poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, multiple anthologies, including Two-Countries: US Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press) and Take a Stand: Art Against Hate (Raven Chronicles Press), and many other publications. Poems are forthcoming in New York Quarterly, Tupelo Quarterly, Cutthroat, Sequestrum, and Galleywinter Poetry Series. Two essays on poetry and medicine have appeared in JAMA. Jed is Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.

Jed Myers will co-feature with Charles Rafferty in the Poets in Conversation reading series on Saturday, May 22, 2021, 4:00pm Pacific. Details and access information will be posted on this site and on The Poetry Department Calendar page.

Author photo by Alina Rios
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on poetry

February 12, 2021

“My love for looking deeply and closely at the world, for putting my whole self into it, and by doing so, seeing the many, many possibilities of a narrative, turned out to be a gift, because taking my sweet time taught me everything I needed to know about writing. And writing taught me everything I needed to know about creating worlds where people could be seen and heard, where their experiences could be legitimized, and where my story, read or heard by another person, inspired something in them that became a connection between us, a conversation. And isn’t that what this is all about — finding a way, at the end of the day, to not feel alone in this world, and a way to feel like we’ve changed it before we leave? Stone to hammer, man to mummy, idea to story — and all of it, remembered.”
Jacqueline Woodson
(b. February 12, 1963)

Hugo House has announced the lineup for Word Works: Writers on Writing 2020–2021. “Word Works craft talks focus on writing as process rather than finished product, examining how language works to inspire and provoke new ideas through lectures and live close readings of the writer’s own or others’ work.”

Each program features a different presenter and topic:

  • Porochista Khakpour: Writing Toward & Against Identity – December 4, 2020
  • Lauren Groff: Fiction’s Hidden Architectures – February 5, 2021
  • Jericho Brown: Nonsense and Senselessness – March 5, 2021
  • Melissa Febos: In Praise of the Confessional – April 9, 2021
  • Joy Harjo: Our Songs Came Through – April 23, 2021
  • Russell Banks: Memory, Abandonment, and Betrayal – May 14, 2021

All Word Works events this season will be held online. Series passes and single-event tickets are now available. See the Word Works page for details on the presenters, topics, and tickets.

NaNoWriMo 2020

November 1, 2020

It’s November (somehow) and along with everything else, that means it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Launched in 1999, the project’s idea is to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. In 2019, 455,080 writers participated in NaNoWriMo programs, including 104,350 students and educators in the Young Writers Program.

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, NaNoWriMo “believes in the transformational power of creativity.” If you sign up (it’s free), you get prompts and encouragement and become part of a community that stretches past the 30 days of November.

Many poets participate, using the daily-writing structure and prompts to draft enough poems to fill a book. Will this be your year for NaNo poems?

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graphic by Tyrell Waiters

on poetry

October 31, 2020

“At first, when an idea, a poem, or the desire to write takes hold of you, work is a pleasure, a delight, and your enthusiasm knows no bounds. But later on you work with difficulty, doggedly, desperately. For once you have committed yourself to a particular work, inspiration changes its form and becomes an obsession, like a love-affair… which haunts you night and day! Once at grips with a work, we must master it completely before we can recover our idleness.”
Natalie Clifford Barney
(October 31, 1876 – February 2, 1972)

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on poetry

October 25, 2020

“One doesn’t have to be constantly looking over one’s own shoulder asking, ‘Can I say this? Is the reader still with me?’ I think you have to go with the faith that there are readers who are with you. You may not know who or where they are but you have to take that risk.”

Nathaniel Mackey

(b. October 25, 1947)

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on poetry

September 25, 2020


“Fundamentally,
I started writing
to save my life.”
Cherríe L. Moraga
(b. September 25, 1952)

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Montana Book Festival

September 9, 2020

The Montana Book Festival goes virtual for 2020 and it starts tomorrow, Thursday, September 10. There’s a whole slate of events scheduled all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, both recorded and live, plus a handful of workshops and consultations. Jory Mickelson, Susannah Nevison, and Molly McCully Brown will offer a Friday afternoon workshop, Dear Friend: Writing Letters, Writing Poems. To see a list of books by presenters, visit the Featured Titles page.

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
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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)

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