Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

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Writing/Not Writing

I haven’t written much here lately, but I’ve been writing. Sort of. Or well, rather I’ve been starting many things. You see, I’ve started having my students draft and free write on a more regular basis this year, and I’ve been writing alongside them. We respond to poetry and prose and sometimes simple statements or questions. Sometimes, I share my work with them; sometimes I do not. I want them to value their own thoughts, so I do not default to sharing with them first. I let them share their ideas. But I do let them see me write, and every so often, I put something I scribbled out with them up on the Smart Board and let them see me do some preliminary revisions.–More of a “this is how revision is done” thing than a “this is what I think about the topic” thing–They can see me write and hear my words without me telling them that this is what one should think about this topic. It’s still early, so it’s hard to tell how well it’s working with their writing, but I do know that they are not as reticent about writing as they were in the beginning of the year because they are seeing it as a class work activity rather than a big assessment. That in and of itself is the beginning of a win.

As for me and my writing, this activity has left me with the beginnings of many pieces and ideas jotted down for others. Despite the fact that the real season is autumn, it feels like spring in my writing life–planting seeds that I hope will germinate and come to fruition. I hope you don’t feel neglected, and I hope you’ll stay with me through the planting season and will be around to see what has grown.

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The Water is Wide

Verdant green rises

On either side,

Thick and lush,

Cool and shaded,

Peaceful.

But the water is turbulent

Churning waves,

Deep and wide

From every direction

Intending to

Upset your raft.

In the distance,

You can see

A calm stretch of water,

Placid and serene,

Before the river turns

Into the unknown.

Poetry Notes

Summer vacation has begun, and so, therefore, also has my quest to complete all the creative tasks that I start or germinate during the school year. Today, I am sitting in my local coffee shop going through an old notebook of writing ideas, and I came across some notes from September 20-22, 2002. Though the notes are not titled (as I am always encouraging my students to do!), I have been able to deduce that they are from my first visit to the Dodge Poetry Festival which at that time was held in Waterloo, NJ. I attended High School Teachers’ Day on Friday and stayed for the general sessions on Saturday and Sunday. It was a wonderful experience. Now that the festival is held in Newark, NJ, it is possible for me to bring my students to the High School Students’ Day. If you are a teacher and can get to Newark for a day trip, I highly recommend the Dodge. It is an amazing experience for both you and your students. Teach them through experience that poetry is not a dead white man’s art form. Poetry is a living art form, and there are many amazing living poets practicing their art right now.

Here are a few notes from that weekend that I wrote down then and still feel connected to now:

If you don’t begin in imitation, you won’t go very far in poetry.

“The more poetry you read, the more original your poetry will be and the less poetry you read, the more clichéd your poetry will be.” Edward Hirsch

When we read poetry, we are looking for something.

How to Teach Poetry: cross the line between literature and creative writing. Make them write; make them follow the beat; it doesn’t have to make sense; make them see the care and the craft.

Coleridge hated the sound of his own name; like to be called STC. (Fun Fact!)

If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep your reader up at night.

Memorization is important.

Reading a poem well shows better understanding than a test/writing.

Have a poem on you at all times!

Ground covered: poems have to move/change you; begins in one place, ends in another; how did we get there?

Read with your students not to them.

Poetry is a participatory experience.

A lot of teaching includes steering the student to the right poet.

Teach poetry in reverse chronology.

Lyric poems are not about history; they are about time, immortality.

Student Frustration: they speak English, the read English, but they don’t understand this; it causes frustration, discouragement. They feel inadequate and then become hostile. (***Current Note: We must help ease that frustration; we must lead them to poetry in a way that allows them access.)

Chain poem: Give them the first line and give them a crazy first name. Help them realize that they don’t have cooperate with the ideas of the first line.

These are most of the notes from the first day. Think about your poetry; think about your teaching. I bolded a few lines that I find most important. Which notes resonate with you? Comment below with your favorite line from above or add your own note.

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Grading Papers on a Sunny Afternoon

Sunlight on the slick clean table

Melts the edges away

Encroaching on the work

In front of me, anchored only

By a red pen that has lost

The very thing that gives it power.

Soon, if daylight keeps encroaching,

The papers will slip into the molten sea

Of the dissolved table and the coffee

Will tumble into the liquified abyss

Pouring out its heart on the fluttering wings

Of student attempts at composition and

Analysis while the bloodless pen spins

Uselessly through the void–

Unless

The setting sun retracts rather than

Advances its rays on

The evanescing table, setting it back

On terra firma, restoring the student efforts

To their fate once I procure another pen–

Though which option offers deliverance,

For them and for me,

It is impossible to say.

ABOUT THE POEM:

Feeling particularly tired yesterday on my commute home, I knew that if I read as is my wont, I would fall fast asleep and end up at the end of the line. So instead I took out my phone and starting flipping through my photos for inspiration. I came across the one above which I took last week during a particularly trying grading session at a local cafe when my pen ran out of ink. This poem is the result of photography, memory, exhaustion, and imagination, and, once I got started, a thesaurus as I became invested in using various synonyms for “melted” and “essays.”

Some Days

Some days, you sit down to write and the words flow. Your fingers can hardly keep up. You are happy and creative and in touch with the essence of the universe.

Some days, you sit down to write and the words are stubborn. They do not want to come. You must tease them, cajole them, scold them, and force them from their places of hiding.

Some days, you sit down to write and the words have gone AWOL. They will not come. You stare at the screen, stare at the page, change writing implements, change seats, but you cannot find them.

Some days, you sit down to write and open a huge box of chocolates.

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Stolen Moments

In order to stick with my New Year’s resolution,  I’ve decided that I need to take advantage of stolen moments to jot a few words down here and there because the best laid plans to scurry out early from work and sit in a cafe to write usually go awry. So today I got to Penn Station just as the 5:56 was leaving; the next train is 6:14, but if I wait just 10 more minutes for the 6:24, I can take an express train, cutting my commute from 33 minutes to 25, thereby almost making up those 10 minutes. And while I’m waiting? I’m sitting at Starbucks tip-tapping away at this post. I don’t expect to finish it before I must pack up for the train, but it is begun. A beginning is a beginning! It’s a good thing.

Sure enough, it’s a few days later, and I’m still writing this post. Over the course of this week I’ve gleaned a few moments for writing while on the subway in the morning–let me tell you, writing poetry while standing on a moving subway is an adventure–or stolen a some time from my prep period to revise another one. Now it’s Thursday, and I’m once again waiting for the train, drinking a latte, and writing away. I started this post on Monday, I’ve written a little bit every day, and I’m thinking…it’s been a good week so far.

Many writers hope to write more–finish that novel, assemble that chapbook, write 300 words a day, write for x number of hours a day, write a new poem a day, a new poem a week, finish a chapter a (insert time frame here). And for those writers who are full time writers, these are admirable goals. But many of us have to hold down “day jobs” which both drain and inspire us. As an English teacher and a poet and writer, this is especially true for me. I am a better teacher because I am a writer and a better writer because I am a teacher, but, and this is a big but, teaching leaves little personal time between September and June. So, I steal what time I can and count that as a win. I hope to get a hour or so this weekend in a block to really work on some longer form material and/or to research markets and submit, but a day with any kind of writing is still a win for me. I always carry a notebook with me, a pretty red and white cloth covered one, and there’s always the WordPress or even Word app on the phone. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of every little bit of time….

And now I steal a little bit of time from my sleep to finish this post. Use every stolen moment you can to write, and when you can’t do that, don’t forget to read!

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New Year’s Resolutions 

Another year has come and gone.  2017, done.  2018 about to begin.  I could make the standard resolutions: work out more,  eat better,  get my papers graded in a more timely manner, etc. etc. But I won’t.  Not that those are not things worth doing; they are.  But in many ways,  they are destined to fail, especially if you’ve made those kind of resolutions before (as I have). No,  this year I will make only one resolution: write more.

Now I know.  That is an amorphous resolution.  What qualifies as “more”? Is this a resolution also destined to fail because of its very ambiguity.  But I don’t think so.  From an optimistic point of view, that vagueness can work in its favor. Anything can be more!

This year that’s coming to a close has had its ups and downs (as I guess all years do), but a definite up was my writing life. I did a better job of keeping at it, and as a result,  three poems were published somewhere other than this blog (or the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day blog in April). Yay! And there are quite a few pieces out for consideration.  Hopefully 2018 brings good news for those pieces.

So here’s to 2018, a year that once seemed so far away is about to begin.  May it find you healthy,  bring you peace, and inspire the writer within.  Cheers!

Handling Procrastination as a Writer: Making Writing Time Sacred

****This popped up in my inbox today, a day on which I usually set aside the afternoon for writing, but if you follow my blog, you know I sometimes have trouble keeping that appointment–like I will today due to a change in plans with friends from Tuesday to Wednesday for which I did not correspondingly set aside Tuesday afternoon for writing.

I particularly like this line:  “Remember: Writing is never about what happens, but what it feels like when something happens.” Whether used for getting over one’s procrastination or simple (?) inspiration, it’s a good line.  Wish me luck as I try to squeeze some writing time in today. Perhaps I’ll even try his exercises. ****

In this excerpt from Fearless Writing, author William Kenower shares an exercises for making your writing time sacred—and conquering procrastination.

Source: Handling Procrastination as a Writer: Making Writing Time Sacred