Welcome to my episode of the “Virtual Blog Tour” aka “My Writing Process Blog Tour.” Cathy Barber, my colleague at California Poets in the Schools, who writes a blog called “Is It Just Me?” has tagged me (chosen me as her victim). There are four questions to answer, and then I must tag more people. That’s the “tour” part. All of our disparate readers jumping happily from blog to blog. I can see how this might actually work, kind of like an old-fashioned chain letter. (If you’re not old enough to know what a chain letter is, read this.
(If you want more examples of the blog tour, besides what you can click through to from Cathy’s blog, check out Erica Goss’s post, or just try googling “blog tour” — there is a lot out there! Cathy tagged only me, but Erica tagged four people … I’m just getting started and am already stressing about whom I shall tag. Oh dear.)
The blog tour asks four standard questions: what are you working on, how does your work differ from others of its genre, why do you write what you do, and how does your writing process work? Even if my answers aren’t useful to anyone but me, I’ll take the plunge and see what I come up with. I guess I’m curious about my writing process, too. But first we need a cool graphic. (This image came from Facebook without attribution, so if you know where it came from, please help me credit the source.)
1. What am I working on?
This is a trick question. I’m working on about a bazillion things. Not the least of which are my family, my “day job” and my mental health. Okay, okay. I know. What creative work am I working on? (It’s true that family, job, and health are all part of my creative life, even though sometimes that’s a contradiction.)
My most time consuming project right now is my Poem-A-Day fiasco. I promised, when I became the second Poet Laureate of Cupertino (*in a clear moment of insanity) to write one poem every day for the first year of my service to the city. I created a Tumblr account specifically for the project, called “A Lane of Yellow” (a reference simultaneously to Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name, and to the fields of yellow mustard that used to blanket Cupertino when I first moved here, under the spreading apricot and prune orchards.) The first objective was to write a poem every day and chart the progress on the Tumblr blog. The second objective was to challenge others in Cupertino to write poems with me; each week I posted a prompt to get us all going. I posted the prompts on Facebook first, and then on the Cupertino Poet Laureate blog. I also posted the prompts on Tumblr.
Basically, PAD was a great (if overly ambitious) idea that I was only able to execute partially. I wrote a poem every day, pretty consistently from October 2013 until sometime around June this year. I have journals that prove it. Sometimes I only wrote titles of poems, sometimes I just dreamed I was writing a poem, but I made the effort. I couldn’t keep up with Tumblr, though, beyond getting the prompts up there regularly. On September 1, I decided I’d re-double my efforts and have been doing a reasonably good job again, with #Sept14PAD. It’s been tough going, but when I’m done, I think I’ll have an interesting body of work (ups and downs, poems and failures, time lapse of life) to catalog. I hope to make an eBook from my efforts. And since, as far as I can tell, nobody has been writing to the prompts (or at least not posting their contributions), the failure of the experiment may be more a failure of my expectations than a failure of community.
In addition to PAD, I’ve been working on a series of poems about my parents courtship and early marriage. I have four or five already and sketches for more. I’m not sure where this will lead me, but I am interested in the concept and the imagery and language keep appearing. I’m calling the project “Not My Poems” and you can hear me reading them around town these days.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Another trick question. What’s my genre? Poetry. Lyric poetry. Domestic poetry. Haiku. Short poems. Failed poetry. Hidden in the drawer poetry. Okay okay! Such pesky questions.
My poetry is lyric by ancient category, as opposed to epic or dramatic, but I write odes, elegies, villanelles, pantoums, haiku, zips, and free verse. I am a domestic poet by content, because I like subject matter that is intimate and private between people, poems about relationships, in the home, families, sewing, cooking, gardening, child-rearing. When I first started reading my poetry at Waverly Writers in Palo Alto in 1986, people told me that nobody else was writing poems about their children, but I don’t really think that’s true. I still do it and so do many other poets. I guess if I had to define my work in a couple of words, I’d say I write about human nature. Domestic pastorals. Laundry songs. I’m not good at conflict, but I do write the occasional anti-war poem, the relationships-are-making-me-crazy poem, the I’m-so-depressed-I can’t-stand-up poem. They don’t always succeed.
3. Why do I write what I do?
This one is easy. I write what I do because when I stand looking out the window, or drive along in my car listening to the radio, or lie in bed at night waiting with my pencil and blank pad of paper, this is what comes up. When I go to workshops and they say, “write this blah blah blah,” this is what comes. When I read magazines and books and listen to other poets at readings, this is what inspires me. What notes I take, what found language I hear and what images I remember is what comes up. If you are in the world waiting for poems to appear, they will. Even when I try to do otherwise, my poems make it plain they will not be other that what comes up.
4. How does my writing process work?
Again, I think it’s pretty easy to see what I do. I sleep too long in the morning ’cause I’m stressing about my day job or anxious about the noise. Then I get up and make tea. I write poems about the suburbs, ’cause that’s where I am. I don’t have great ambition, other than to have a good poem once in a while. I used to want the approval and accolades, and there’s still a young woman in my heart who wishes she were a famous poet, but I’ve been explaining to her recently that I live in this body now, and that regret is just an obstacle and a lazy game. She doesn’t listen so much.
Even without the poem-a-day project, I try to write something every day. One of the reasons has to do with the Venn diagram above. I’m not a happy person a lot of the time. But I believe in happiness. I’m selfish a lot more than I would like, but I believe in serving others and making a difference in the world. Some days I think it’s all just junk, but I have learned that I feel better if I practice my art every day. I believe in poetry as an organizing principle in life, the way some people might believe in God. If I practice poetry, I feel better/alive/connected, and some good poems appear. When I teach poetry, I’m making a difference, giving permission to another uncertain voice.
The technicalities of my writing process are: a notebook in my bag always (no matter where I am going) for when images and language appear. A clipboard at home, with scratch paper, recycled paper, etc., for when I sit down and plan to write a poem. Another journal on my desk for snatches from books I’m reading, bits of found language, how much I weigh every morning, if my back hurts. Right now, the big scrapbooks of the PAD project. A different journal for Morning Pages when I do them. I will rewrite a poem out by hand or type it into the computer, and then edit the printout by hand. My desk is a disaster. I have an Excel spreadsheet (never up to date) for tracking submissions.
(If I could design the perfect writing process, it might be: get up in the morning, make tea, sit in bed and write my morning pages – a la Julia Cameron and The Artists Way. Then I’d read, hangout, feed the cats, do the laundry, and at some point, sit down at my desk and “write poems” for a couple hours. Then I’d put that away, go about my business. I’d walk and write. I’d teach. I’d go to museums and concerts, I’d hang out with my family doing family stuff. I’d see my therapist. I’d find other poets and be near them. That’s what I’d do. Isn’t it all your writing process, every moment? Are you swallowing this load of baloney?)
Now to the tagging: I would like to suggest that these people take up the Virtual Blog Tour challenge.
Lindsay Marshall, fellow Master’s student, teacher, horsewoman, new mom, spiritual seeker. I see her a lot more on Facebook than on her blog, The Narrow Gait, but she’s got a fine mind and dusty boots.
(*in a clear moment of insanity — wouldn’t that make a great line in a poem?)
I’ve been writing this post for three days now. Sheesh. Press publish already you goon.