From “Writing About Writing)
From two years ago. I wondered, but I can still say it: Yes. What a ride it’s been….
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
~ e.e. cummings ~
by Ron Koertge
Poets can’t wait to bury their fathers
Mine wanted no part of that.
I thought he meant later,
I dialed his cell. The reception
“What am I supposed to tell Mom?”
“You’re the writer,” he replied.
Gather ’round children.
I’ve something to say,
And the chance may not come ’round again.
You may not believe me,
But someday you’ll see that
This life is a joke in the end.
Oh, don’t get me wrong,
I love it, and you, and
Wouldn’t know what I would change.
I just remember, when I was like you,
All the certainties and plans I had made.
But it’s what happened instead—
In the spaces and cracks,
Through sorrows and losses and gains—
That finally taught me, until I awoke
And the picture of me made me laugh.
I have traveled my path, for better or worse,
And looking back I must smile.
I was so serious, so certain, so utterly dumb,
I knew everything, so it seemed.
But life is nothing like what I foresaw,
The twists and the turns, the raw surprises and all.
I don’t mean to tell you
A plan that will work,
Because that is the joke, don’t you see?
There ain’t no such thing as a stone cold sure prize,
No guarantee, contract or spin.
It’s good to have goals, but remember one thing,
The pros learn to go with the flow.
We do what we do, we try as we must,
But the real point’s so easily missed,
The touch of a lover, the smell of the sea,
The taste of food cooked with love,
These things are the purpose, my foolish young fools,
The meaning, the spice, and the heart.
So have no regrets, let them go, and move on.
Let’s go now and soak up the dawn.
After all, my young friends, today is unique, and
It’s the only one like it we’ll see.
We all have themes we revisit over and over as writers. This is one of mine.
Republishing to add a painting by a friend.
I came from a place where men were reasonable and tall,
Where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his,
Where farmers didn’t plant trees by their houses,
Either because of some vestige of the days when you
Needed to see the Indians coming,
Or, more likely, you needed to see at a glance from any
Window how the corn was growing, the soybeans,
Whether the needed rainclouds were gathering in the west, yet;
Where cemeteries had outlived everyone who cared and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car, not because you knew who it was but
Just in case they knew your parents:
You didn’t want to hear about being rude at church on Sunday.
I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a mile away,
From a place where going to my cousin’s meant
Pumping hard on my bike, the old fat-tired-hand-me-down from my brother,
That had one gear: my legs…
And popping the tar bubbles on the road on hot summer days with the tires,
Smelling the fumes and feeling the sucking of the oil from Arabia;
Watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by, the birds calling from the trees,
Watching my dog chase another rabbit. Sometimes she caught one,
But mostly not: she just loved the chase.
I came from a place infused and overwhelmed with the land, of deep roots;
Where uncles and aunts would come for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking;
My cousins and I would race through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness on the edge of safety, screeching when found
And thrilling to the freedom to roam, to be ourselves, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put dozens in quart canning jars
And study the mating calls of yellow-green magical light.
I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
Of learning about sex very early, and stewardship, and death;
Of late nights wading through snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard, cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed to come in bitterest cold— cleaning newborn lambs off with burlap sacks
Holding them under heat lamps until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse, coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
I came from a place that has slowly died since then,
And I feel the ache of the loss of all that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where farms are now owned by Arab sheiks and giga-farms inhaled three or four of the ones I once knew;
Where the invisible glue that once made communities evaporated from
Neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights, calling children to mystery but with fewer there to hear the answers.
On a brief vacation in Wyoming and Montana. This is the first dawn today, which reminded me of this poem.
by Rudyard Kipling
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea, There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me; For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say: "Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!" Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay: Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay? On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin'-fishes play, An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green, An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen, An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot, An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot: Bloomin' idol made o'mud -- Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd -- Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud! On the road to Mandalay . . . When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow, She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!" With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak. Elephints a-pilin' teak In the sludgy, squdgy creek, Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak! On the road to Mandalay . . . But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away, An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay; An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells: "If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else." No! you won't 'eed nothin' else But them spicy garlic smells, An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells; On the road to Mandalay . . . I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones, An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones; Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand, An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand? Beefy face an' grubby 'and -- Law! wot do they understand? I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land! On the road to Mandalay . . . Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst, Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst; For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be -- By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea; On the road to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay, With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay! On the road to Mandalay, Where the flyin'-fishes play, An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!
This is not one of my normal posts, but I’m angry. And, I am tired of the placid hand-wringing that infects social media when something bad happens again, such as the recent terror attacks. It feels so pointless to wail “When will this end?”. So shallow. Self-indulgent. So.. immature.
Slowly, surely, inexorably, the reality of what we face after yet another attack is sinking in. All the “vigilance” and “toughness” in the world won’t stop this stuff completely. A guy in a truck can’t get bombs, so he grabs a truck and drives through a crowd. One guy with a grievance and an ideology that made him feel important for the first time in his miserable life. There’s no defense that will work against that all the time.
We Americans are soft and flabby, distracted by shiny things, grown lazy and stupid and corrupt. But as we see more of the terror attacks (and there will be more), we will start to remember we’re not descended from timid people.
I don’t want to have to think like this, but I don’t have the luxury any more. Living in a fuzzy bubble of fake-feel-good cat videos isn’t going to help. They were not perfect, our ancestors, God knows. But they were capable of a cold, resolute and implacable wrath when their backs were to the wall. It has happened before. After attacking Pearl Harbor and launching WWII in the Pacific, the Japanese admiral in charge said prophetically:
“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” –Isoroku Yamamoto
From a new blogger friend.
It always takes a man that never made much at anything to tell you how to run your business. Like these college professors without a whole pair of socks to his name, telling you how to make a million in 10 years, and a woman that couldn’t even get a husband can always tell you how to raise a family.
– William Faulkner, The Sound And The Fury
It is always a new perspective which gives us the edge. We take a look at everything and shape a set of meanings. Then, with that understanding in mind, we proceed.
Everything is personal. That is why we are unable to find the solution. If it is business, we start with reason. The reason is from our own understanding, therefore it’s personal. When another sort of it is needed, we can not find it. Most of us can not be the other…
View original post 159 more words
He asks me
“how many years?”
but it reminds me
of how I might
want to start a story,
“I cant remember,”
I tell him,
always does this
when I’m there
within his presence,
and to be honest,
it feels more like
where time stops
its just my
because, I really
to help it,
I want to just
scream at this world
who rushes, rushes,
around me now to
in such a hurry
when all I want to do
is have a conversation
about how it felt,
when time stopped
when he entered
Editors read for a living. They read all day long.
Some writing lands on their desk in excellent form, but a lot of it requires serious work with the red pen. Generally, editors are happy to help their writers to develop strong narrative arcs and believable characters.
The most annoying thing, though, is when writers fall at the most basic technical writing hurdles. Editors should not spend their time replacing adverbs with strong verbs or changing from passive to active voice. The writer can and should make these edits when they do their own first edit.
Editors have limited time to spend on your drafts, and that time is expensive. Taking a little time for self-editing can impress your editor and prove your writing skills.
Here are six common problems to fix before your editor gets out the red pen:
1. Replace adverbs with strong verbs.
When you write your first draft, it’s more important to get the story out than to get every word right. Wrestling with every word can disrupt your momentum.
So, if you need to write, “Mike drove quickly back to headquarters” while you’re pouring out a scene, then go for it. Your first edit is your chance to figure out how to make it stronger: “The tires screamed on Mike’s beat-up Honda as he raced back toward headquarters.”
In your first major edit, reassess any adverbs you find. Sometimes an adverb will sing, but more often than not, you will come up with a stronger way to get your idea across when you go back and look again.
2. Fix repetitive use of initial pronouns.
This used to make my professor crazy. As a master’s student, I had a terrible habit of starting nearly every sentence with a pronoun. He did this. She did that. It is correct. Boring.
Aim to have fewer than 30 percent of your sentences begin with a pronoun. Vary your sentence structure as much as you can; it keeps your readers’ attention and makes your writing more engaging.
3. Get rid of clichés.
Editors despise nothing more than unoriginality. Clichés, by definition, are unoriginal phrases. When writing fiction, try to come up with your own unique way to describe people or situations.
George Orwell said in his rules for writing, “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”
Clichés are often the result of lack of imagination or laziness and, as Orwell says, are often “merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” Replace any clichés with your own unique phrasing to touch your reader’s imagination in a whole new way.
4. Declutter your writing by cutting redundancies.
Redundancies clutter writing by adding words but not meaning. Every word should be there for a reason. If it’s not needed, delete it.
Some redundancies are so common we don’t even notice them. How often have you heard someone talk about a “free gift”? As opposed to what the kind of gift you have to pay for? The word “free” is redundant in this case; cut it.
Or those organizations that undertake a “joint collaboration.” Unlike all those individual collaborations? The word “collaboration” means people working jointly. Cut the clutter so your editor doesn’t have to.
5. Eliminate your passive voice.
Overuse of passive voice can jump off the page to an editor as a mark of inexperience. Like adverbs and initial pronouns, sometimes you can use passive voice for a specific purpose and it will be perfect, but overuse weakens your writing.
Let’s look at an example:
Active voice: Dave kicked in the door. He hurdled the sofa, shouted a warning and then ransacked the kitchen.
Passive voice: The door was kicked in by Dave. The sofa was hurdled, a warning was shouted and then the kitchen was ransacked by him.
In the first example, Dave is the subject; in the second example the door, sofa, warning and kitchen are the subjects. The second example is not grammatically incorrect, but it doesn’t sound right. Your verbs should refer to the doer rather than to the thing having something done to it.
6. Get rid of sticky sentences.
Sticky sentences brim with glue words—the 200 or so most common words in the English language—including: is, as, the, that, etc.
Glue words are the empty spaces in your writing that your readers have to pass through to get to the meaning. Reducing the frequency of glue words increases the clarity of your writing, which makes your editor happy.
Here’s an example:
Original: Erica needed to get the key to the car, and so she asked for the contact number of the person who was in charge of that department. (Seventeen glue words in a 27-word sentence. Glue index: 63 percent.)
Edited: Erica contacted the department head to borrow the car key. (Three glue words in a 10-word sentence. Glue index: 30 percent.)
The first sentence wobbles around searching for the point, whereas the second sentence is concise and clear, using fewer than half the words. Learn to recognize sticky sentences and rewrite them before your editor sees them.
Give your editor a break. Let her concentrate on making your story more compelling and your characters more believable. Don’t bog her down by forcing her to correct errors that you could easily have caught. You need her too much for that.
What revisions do you strive to make before you send material to your editor?
This article first ran on Ragan.com in Dec. 2015.
Small disclaimer: I don’t feel bitter about my late mother, not like MacCarthy down below there. I had nothing to regret, or at least nothing worth remembering.
But we’re always told how glorious it would be to meet all those who’ve ‘gone on before.’
Or we’re told often enough….
Well, no. Hold up there for a second, mythical platitudes person. There are a few with whom I would not want to spend eternity, if I were to be honest. But then, maybe that would be the final chance to fix mistakes or make amends? A dilemma. The problem is we don’t know which it will be beforehand.
Still…. I’m waffling… like another Irishman, the (late) Spike Milligan, on this question (who must have gotten his wish, as he died in 2002):
“If I thought that in death I would meet the people I’ve known in life I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate horror. The ultimate despair. If I had to meet my mother again and start all of that all over, only this time without the prospect of death to look forward to? Well. That would be the final nightmare. Kafka on wheels.”
I am my own worst enemy,
And my only companion.
Running images behind my eyes
Like a manic, runaway film reel.
Nothing complete, nothing but bits and confounding distractions,
Nothing but hints, rushing by, hurried and then gone,
A fucked up flurry of emotions,
Stabbing me with images, sadness, beauty and pain,
Courage and struggle and triumph.
“What is that”? “Who is she”? “What can it all mean?”
Constant frustration, knowing that I cannot
Capture a fraction of it all, standing in the gush of a stream
As salmon leap and surge all around in an orgy of
Need and creation.
And the clock keeps ticking.
The surprised wonder at some unknown beauty or distant galaxy, exploding,
Twisted sandstone canyons, galaxies found in
A young woman’s eyes.
One minute depressed, the next filled with unqualified love, desire, longing, certainty.
If I were to be able to just list this passing parade,
You might turn away, embarrassed or repulsed.
You might hear an echo of your own madnesses and flittering fantasy parade,
Drawn to it, curious to know that you aren’t the only one.
But am I?
“Children robbed of love will dwell in magic.
“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative of truth but not its twin.” — Barbara Kingsolver
If you haven’t had the tests, and want to see how false are the old ideas about race are, it is money well spent. You’ll find cousins in surprising places.
I was moved by this video today and thought I would share. It seems to me that the media, at least here in America, gives much time drawing lines that separate people and races. Some stories build egos and pride while others shame and give a sense of guilt. I love that this video shares the TRUTH.
We are ALL much more connected than we can even imagine.
It’s time to take off the blinders.
Enough of the hate and “I am better than you” attitude.
We are indeed all ONE.
A little reminiscing. Reposting this just because I love this song. It makes me feel good.
“My ex grew up on da Rue Royale, and she had a way of making the word ‘water’ sound SO good. More like ‘Wahrter.’ I love y’all’s town. And the world’s FINEST women come from New Orleans. You may quote me.”
Trying to recapture a feeling…but what do I know? I’m just a white, white boy with too many miles on the transmission who dropped in for a few days of pretend. Nah, I’m just being coo-yon. That place can get under your skin quick. I’ll be going back. Ça c’est bon
Everybody’s had a few
Now they’re talking about who knows who
I’m going back to the Crescent City
Where everything’s still the same
This town has said what it has to say
Now I’m after that back highway
And the longest bridge I’ve ever crossed over Pontchartrain
‘Tu Le Ton Son Ton’… that’s what we say
We used to dance the night away
Me and my sister me and my brother
We used to walk down by the river
Mama lives in Mandeville
I can hardly wait until
I can hear my Zydeco and Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez
And take rides in open cars
My brother knows where the best bars are
Let’s see how these blues’ll do in the town where the good times stay
Tu Le Ton Son Ton that’s all we say
We used to dance the night away
Me and my sister me and my brother
We used to walk down by the river
*Cajun phrase. “Tu le ton son temps” (derived from the standard French, “Tous les temps en temps”) translated loosely is “every now and then”
There are times when
the birdsong stops, when the sun
hides behind clouds that do not bring rain;
when the rivers run low and muddy; when nothing seems
to work as it should; when old griefs whisper in the wee hours
and play their lamentations and sorrows over and over and over;
when the world is eerie and haunted, but the endless dreams
of neighbors’ dreams are full of mystery and renewal,
yet we stare at cracks in the ceiling, reliving
those things that refuse to surrender
to reason, then rise, prowl in the
close darkness of 3 a.m., an
unjust sentence to be
served out slowly
Most of what we are is due to blind luck. Who our DNA donors were, where we were born. We’re all like trout fingerlings hauled in tanker trucks to the cold stream water running from the mountains to the sea. We’re dumped in the running water, slapped on the ass and told, “There, now go find the ocean.”
We get our hair color and complexions from the primordial soup of couplings beyond counting back thousands and thousands of years. Sex. All the way to Africa. That nose? You’re third great-great grandfather had that nose—not that anyone remembers now, of course. Except you’re carrying it around like a fleshy legacy of an anonymous donor. And you don’t know that he pointed that nose north, into Indian country, and followed it to some good land in the Ohio Territory. He built a cabin and planted corn, and raised 8 children out of 12 that were born. He got that nose from a great-grandmother, a woman who’s ancestors had once lived in castles and worn silk, until some damned fool backed the wrong duke or earl and lost it all.
And then her grandfather listened to a preacher who said all that finery was an illusion, that God was calling down a different path. He listened. He thought. He looked around and saw that all was not right with the affairs of man, and stepped out onto that path. Everything changed after that. Except for the nose.
The world is full of people who claim to have the final answers, and will kill you if you disagree.
But life is an irony, and a glorious river of possibilities, like the stars of the Milky Way marching across the night sky. It’s all blind luck. An accident of birth puts each of us in a specific place and time, with a unique mixture of enzymes and proteins and potentials. Any of us could just as easily been born a Hindu or Apache, a pauper or a king; the mother of nations or a servant girl. A Chinese peasant in 640 BC. or Alexander the Flippin’ Great. But we weren’t. We were born us. All the same. All different.
The randomness bothers some people. And it should. Because underneath it all is a vast, unplanned future. That’s scary. We’re just poor little fish dumped into a cold stream, learning as we go, trying to follow our noses back to the oceans of our beginnings.
If you want to explore more strangeness: https://hemmingplay.com/2015/11/02/the-egg
That central anxiety — a sense that great ideas tend to become a little discombobulated during the difficult act of putting them into words — hovers over and haunts “The Hatred of Poetry,” an extended essay that hinges on the impossibility of writing poetry. There is something impossibly knotty about the arguments it makes, too. The book comes across as such a cerebral curio that (like Mr. Lerner’s thinky and digressive novels, “Leaving the Atocha Station” and “10:04”) it’s almost impossible to describe.
Let’s try. (Although if we were to give up trying, Mr. Lerner would probably applaud.) The gist: A lot of people seem to hate poetry, which is arguably neck-and-neck with mime as the most animus-attracting of art forms. Loathing rains down on poetry, from people who have never read a page of it as well as from people who have devoted their lives to reading and writing it. Pivoting off a provocative line by Marianne Moore — “I, too, dislike it.” — Mr. Lerner admits that he can relate to the haters. Hostility, he suggests, qualifies as a crucial mode in which poetry and human beings start a conversation with each other. Antipathy is the entry point.
When the pain of our current situation outweighs our fear of change, then change will happen.
When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.
When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young.
“Young and Old” by Charles Kingsley. Public domain. (buy now)
The signs are all around me,
The storm is raging still.
The wind brings sounds of battle,
From that far distant hill.
I thought this all was over,
I thought my race was run.
But just as I was resting,
My peaceful life’s undone.
So. Now one final trial:
My guts recoil in fear.
He’s coming soon, despite me,
I feel him drawing near.
Comes weary resignation,
And anger pushing blood,
Determined to leave honor,
Where once foul evil stood.
Empowered by human warmth.
To know is to live.
Another act of homage tossed to a master:
Buffalo Bill's defunct who used to ride a watersmooth-silver stallion and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat Jesus he was a handsome man and what i want to know is how do you like your blueeyed boy Mister Death
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
When you’ve been together as long as we have—
and the grown children are off making their own mistakes,
and careers have been dropped like bad habits—
the arguments tend to be about basic things.
We no longer tolerate easy answers.
Just the hard ones, such as those concerning walnuts and flowers.
Continue reading “Walnuts or Roses?”
by Billy Collins
So much gloom and doubt in our poetry-
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.
Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.
I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?
Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrator of experience,
Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,
“Despair” by Billy Collins from Ballistics. © Random House, 2008. (buy now)
I’m on a theme here, I guess. Maybe I’m talking to myself. I dunno. But this dude is still an awesome writer. Most of what he says applies to prose, poetry …. anything involving words and audiences, actually.
Note: Dear Aaron, get in touch and I’ll send you an address for the check!
I’ve been having some enjoyable conversations-via-blog-comments this morning with a couple of people I assume are young-ish. One is in the UK (although it’s sometimes hard to be certain), and the other is in India.
Both are wrestling with the oh-so-common problem all writers and creatives encounter, namely the existential pain of doubt and self-criticism, and the frustration and procrastination that infests us all. Welcome to the big-leagues, fellow-sufferers. If you turn pro, this is a daily battle. Stop worrying about that, and get busy.
I’m putting on my grizzled veteran hat on for a moment.
I’m kind of ancient now, but I know the struggle when you’re young to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
And when you’re older.
And when you’re ancient, like me.
I wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. But if you keep at it, kiddos, you do learn to do the work anyway. That’s the difference between an amateur’s “dear diary” narcissism and a pro’s calculation and skill. I’d like to slap high school English teachers who lie to prospective writers and tell them that they’re wonderful, that they will take the world by storm. I know it takes something to motivate students, but lies don’t really help them face the real world. The real world is a cold place. Sorry.
It takes practice to be so goddamned compelling that people will read what we write. Because the ugly truth is THEY REALLY DON’T WANT TO READ WHAT WE WRITE, because they’re busy and are already inundated by oceans of mediocre crap. They assume our deathless poetry/prose/Facebook update is just more of the same. Admit it, we all do the same thing. It’s not fair, but it is certainly quite rational. We have to earn trust. It’s like walking on broken glass some days, but that’s the only way. Keep walking.
One of my favorite authors on the subject is Steven Pressfield. He wrote “The War of Art” a couple of years ago, which single-handedly got my butt back onto the chair. He’s got a new one out, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t”, which I’ve downloaded and am reading. (hurry. It’s free for just a short time.) This piece is an ad for his work. I get no royalty, but hope that you find out how to deal with the only real problem you have, which is your own brain’s resistance game.
And just realize that you’re not going to change the world. No one wants to read your shit. Once your accept that, you can actually do the work necessary to get good enough to change the world. Just be prepared for that to take a long time.
Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations. In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it.
Nobody wants to read anything. Let me repeat that. Nobody— not even your dog or your mother— has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchoupitoulas. It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit. What’s the answer?
1) Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
2) Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.
3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.
Take the day, for instance: How the ruff
of sun’s first light shoulders the night
aside and when I butt my morning
cigarette, my absolute last cigarette,
I begin to chew my cuticles and why
my next-door neighbor drops by
daily to cry about her ex who ran off
with some little slut he met in tango class,
and when my twenty-year-old cat
misses the litter box, howls at
headlights that strafe the ceiling,
I know this will end in ashes
at a cemetery where we stood
over my mother’s urn, hugless, useless
hands dangling from our dumb arms
while on the hill above us a guy wearing
soiled khakis lounged in a golf cart,
waiting for us to understand this was it,
the end, we needed to leave already
so he could finally begin to dig.
“The Beginning of Something Is Always the End of Another” by Sarah Freligh from Sad Math. © Moon City Press, 2015. (buy now)
I’ve been looking back through the past two years’ posts to pull things out for a book of poetry I’m considering. First reaction? Wow. Some of the early stuff is pretty bad. I can barely remember the guy who was starting out back then. A lot has changed, but I’m glad I don’t do this exercise much.:-) Second, some things seem worth exhuming for a second look. Such as this one. Thought you might enjoy it.
This is the nub of it for me, and for other writers I’ve come to know, either personally or through their work:
“To put it in the sort of simplistic terms that I’ll no doubt come to regret using: self-doubt is the best friend and the worst enemy of the writer. Because being a writer isn’t like being a tennis player or a boxer, where you presumably have to hunt down and ruthlessly eliminate the source of any flickering shadow of suspicion that you might not be destined for victory. As a writer, you have to take your own misgivings seriously; you have to attend, now and then, to the little voice in your head or the booming baritone in your gut that wishes you to know that what you are writing is entirely without value.
The trick, of course, is to know when to listen to it and when to tell it to shut its stupid fat face. …”
The dry times they predicted are here,
The clouds are scarce and carry no water.
In drought out West, the red cliffs turn black in the moonlight
the way blood does when cooling under reflected light.
You won’t understand, of course, but I’m empty today.
empty of the thing I need,
empty … and likely to stay that way.
‘I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o’ the dead walk again.’
Just when enough time has passed, or should have,
a memory will wake the misery spirit to scour around my ribs
in sticky places where the emptiness still hides
like black blood in the cool, blue light of the moon.
So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two.
As for the one, a man would
praise her when he came to understand her;
but the other is blameworthy:
and they are wholly different in nature.
For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel:
her no man loves; but perforce,
through the will of the deathless gods,
men pay harsh Strife her honor due.
But the other is the elder daughter
of dark Night, and the son of Cronos
who sits above and dwells in the aether,
set her in the roots of the earth:
and she is far kinder to men.
She stirs up even the shiftless to toil;
for a man grows eager to work when
he considers his neighbor,
a rich man who hastens to plough and
plant and put his house in good order;
and neighbor vies with his neighbor
as he hurries after wealth.
This Strife is wholesome for men.
And potter is angry with potter, and
craftsman with craftsman,
and beggar is jealous of beggar,
and minstrel of minstrel.
Perses, lay up these things in your heart,
and do not let that Strife who delights
in mischief hold your heart back from work,
while you peep and peer and listen
to the wrangles of the court-house.
seems to need us
–Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It is an hour after sunrise, the world
still damp from an overnight rain.
A cold front moved through
The air, now washed and
optimistic with good ions,
Flows down from the
mountain over there, cool and dry.
The maple leaves flutter
and let me know it’s coming.
One of the robin chicks that
hatched three weeks ago in the lilac
Hunts for bugs under the ferns,
stops and aims a bright eye at me.
We say hello, in our way. He registers
me as someone he knows.
I sip my coffee, nod,
Wishing him silent luck with the hunt.
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
I listen for stories.
That’s what I do.
There was this old Black woman, see.
We met when I was in college.
During my vaguely spiritual phase.
(It was Zen Buddhism next, but I digress.)
She was a neighborhood fortune teller,
Worked out of her living room.
Maggie the fortune teller.
“…Passion is a strange thing, a thing that warps and twists everything with which it comes into contact. It is like the combination of moisture and sunshine on wood; sometimes it turns out all right, most of the times it doesn’t, but you can’t ignore its strength….”
“Death Without Company,” Craig Johnson.
I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.
It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.
I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.
All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.
A Bookish World
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