1 April 2019

For the ninth(!) year in a row, I’m participating in NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo if you’re free from these United States). Writing 30 poems in 30 days sounds daunting, but trying to achieve that goal has always been an extremely generative process for me. My first attempt at #NaPoWriMo involved a secret pact — and a secret password-protected blog! — with a poet whose poetry and practice I admire. She taught me a lot about writing within a compressed time frame and suppressing my editorial impulses when creating a first draft of a poem. These lessons capture the core mission of National/Global Poetry Writing Month (or any other 30/30 writing challenge). All too many poets, regardless of their level of experience, get blocked in their writing because they start editing even before they have written anything at all. NaPoWriMo invites me to limit the demands I put on each poem by demanding that I limit the amount of time I spend bringing that poem into the world. I write as many poems as I can each April and then edit them at my leisure.

The poems I write during April often figure into other poetry projects I pursue throughout the year, so I rarely follow the daily prompts although I highly recommend using prompts, especially with writing groups or creative writing students. I am still centering my #writeeveryday efforts on using the predictive text algorithm in my phone’s memo application to write poetry. (I (still) have a Samsung Galaxy S7.) So far, the algorithm and I have produced some solid work. Most people remain skeptical of the poetic potential of their predictive text function, but I encourage you to explore ways to disrupt the algorithm’s rhythm. You’d be surprised at the results.

Today’s #NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem that provides the reader with instructions on how to do something, which is a classic. I have used it myself and with students many, many times. I didn’t even read the prompt until after I wrote my poem for today, but I think I might come back to it later in the month.

I usually keep the majority of my #NaPoWriMo posts private or remove the poem after a few days in case I want to submit it for publication in the future, but I’ve posted a screenshot of my April 1 poem below. Did you know about my obsession with Alexander the Great? And my further obsession with Mary Renault‘s novels about Alexander the Great? Now you do.

Screenshot_20190401_1Apr19

 

2 April 2018

I didn’t not follow the Day 2 prompt for NaPoWriMo, which encourages participants to write a poem “that plays with voice.” I just didn’t challenge myself to use voice in a different way than I have been using it recently. The poems in my Predictive Text series frequently conflate “you” (second-person point of view) with “I” (first-person point of view), and since the “I” in these poems is a loosely fictionalized version of me (that is, me, Gillian actual), this fluidity between pronouns allows readers to imagine the events in these poems as happening to them. In theory, this shift in point of view that positions readers as the speaker of the poem should make the details of the poem feel more universal (as opposed to highly personal). In theory.

Currently, my Introduction to Creative Writing students at Wheelock College are reading Citizen by Claudia Rankine, a book which uses “you” to challenge the reader’s position in a powerful and evocative way. If you haven’t read Citizen yet, put that book on hold at your local library tout de suite! In the meantime, you can read excerpts here, here, here, and here. Afterwards, try to answer the question I asked my students to reflect on:

In Citizen, Claudia Rankine addresses “you” throughout the book. Where do you recognize yourself in the encounters described in Citizen, if at all? What perspectives or angles of experience were you surprised to inhabit, and why? How does Rankine’s choice to use second person point of view affect your experience as a reader? How does Rankine’s choice to use second person point of view affect your experience as a citizen?

(question courtesy of the National Endowments for the Arts reader’s guide for Citizen)

I’ve posted my 2/30 draft below. It disappointed me right away, and I’ve already revised it multiple times, but here’s the original version:

2018-04-02 10.11.06

1 April 2018

I’m folding this year’s NaPoWriMo challenge into my #writeeveryday goal, and I will post my drafts, or portions of them, here throughout the month. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with using the memo app on my phone to write poems loosely based on events in my life; it’s a play on the daybook concept Jessica has been exploring (read excerpts here, here, here, and read more about Jessica’s daybooks project here) one in which I also explore the limitations (and possibilities) of the predictive text function on my phone.

Today’s prompt did inspire this poem, although I stuck closer to the prompt’s inspiration (Lauren Russell’s exercise which invites writers to consider the body’s capacity for monstrosity and pleasure, shame and desire) than to the idea of a secret shame or guilty pleasure.

2018-04-01 18.19.00

I have more

Several of the other residents, mostly visual artists and nonfiction writers, had questions about The Deletionist, how it works, and how often I use it to make it poems. (I can answer that last question by saying that I experiment with my deletionist button fairly often but find I only rarely get truly interesting results.)

I promised to share another “successful” erasure created by me and The Deletionist, an erasure of a digitally annotated version of “Eurydice” by H.D. You can read the full erasure here. I’ve also included an image of one of the screenshots below.

Eurydice_page 1

kiss, kiss, kindling

This morning the first batch of two week residents for January left VSC, and this afternoon the residents who will be here for the second two weeks of the month arrive. It was difficult to say goodbye to new friends, especially Amanda, Laurel, and Steph, who will finish her MFA at George Mason University (my alma mater) this semester. (I didn’t even attempt to say goodbye to Lee Ann. She just needs to stay in my life forever. Burlington and Boston are not that far apart.) In Maverick, we also lost Marie, Pam, and Lisa, so right now the studio feels empty and full of ghosts.

I wore my Camp Fox shirt to protect me from lonesomeness.

011814_campfox

Since everything here felt quiet and ghostly, I also worked a little on my private Jane Eyre project, and then I decided to try out my Deletionist button on the Project Gutenberg text of the novel. In this tiny post at The Millions, Nick Moran explains what the Deletionist is:

The Deletionist is a concise system for automatically producing an erasure poem from any Web page. It systematically removes text to uncover poems, discovering a network of poems called ‘the Worl’ within the World Wide Web.”

I took some screenshots of some of the most interesting early pages (click to enlarge):

Jane Eyre 1 2014-01-18

Jane Eyre 2 2014-01-18

Jane Eyre 3 2014-01-18

Jane Eyre 4 2014-01-18

Jane Eyre 5 2014-01-18

Jane Eyre 6 2014-01-18

Jane Eyre 7 2014-01-18

So far I really like the way these “deletionist-ed” pages have turned out. I have been listening to Nick Cave, and I think he agrees with me.

Forecasting the Future

Tonight Leonid Lerman, a visiting sculptor here at VSC this week, gave a slide talk about his work and life. I am a little in love with him. I found his talk/work so inspiring that I went back to my studio around 9 p.m. and wrote a long (7 page) erasure about prophecy and the future and my obsession with apocalyptic visions.

You can see the first page/section of the poem, titled “Forecasting the Future” below. (Click the picture to enlarge the screenshot.)

Screenshot 2014-01-16 09.41.34

My source text for this erasure is What Is Coming: A Forecast of Things After the War, written by H.G. Wells in 1916.

 

your little month

The title of this blog comes from the following sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of my poetic kindred souls. I love the line so make the most of this, your little day and often recite it to myself as a reminder to focus on the present moment while remaining bold enough to embrace the vastness of long creative projects.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
IV
I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far, —
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

Plans and Projects

I have wanted to do a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center since I first finished my MFA program in 2000. Obviously, once I learned I’d been accepted, I started plotting and making plans for my time here. I have high hopes for them all.

Writing plans and projects:

  1. My year in Tarot — For several years I have been receiving a tarot card accompanied by a very generalized reading from www.astrology.com/tarot every day in my email. I believe that everyone who subscribes to this service receives the same card, which seems to be a flaw in this particular divination system. Since the cards, as in any Tarot reading, are pulled at a random, it is also possible to receive the same card two days (or more) in a row. I thought it would be interesting to do an erasure of each day’s Tarot card/reading over the course of a year. So that is what I’m doing and will be doing for the foreseeable future. Right now the erasure I made for the card I received on January 6th (the Devil) is my favorite.
  2. Taylor Swift sentence poems — Honestly, I am always looking for ways to write poems about Taylor Swift. I would argue that I am not (yet) obsessed with Taylor Swift, but I am awfully interested in her/her work/listening to her songs on repeat/watching her videos on YouTube/wearing my official Taylor Swift shirt that says “Like Ever” on it. I am also always looking for a new way to approach writing a poem. I’ve recently become interested in writing a poem that consists only of one grammatical sentence. So I’ve begun a series of one sentence Taylor Swift poems. So far, my favorite one is called “If I Were 14 Years Old, I Would Think Taylor Swift Is a Genius,” which is also a line I once used in an OK Cupid profile.
  3. Secret Jane Eyre poetry project — I am obsessed with the novel Jane Eyre and the Brontës, and lately I’ve become more and more interested in experimenting with visual poetry. I’ve been doing quite a bit of erasure poetry lately (You can see two examples here at Printer’s Devil Review. Be aware that the cover of this issue is a little provocative and perhaps even NSFW, depending on how prurient your workplace is.), but I think I want to push my boundaries some more, and I think Jane Eyre will help me accomplish this goal. There’s not much more to say about this project other than I made two separate trips to the art supply store here in Johnson, VT.
  4. Complete erasure chapbook based on the collection of Cornell University nature-study pamphlets I found on Project Gutenberg. While visiting my mom in San Diego this summer, I discovered this amazing collection of nature-study pamphlets curated by Liberty H. Bailey, Jr., a renowned “plantsman” who apparently created “nature study” while teaching  agriculture at Cornell. The language and style of these pamphlets both delight and baffle me. I brought 10 completed erasures based on these pamphlets to Vermont, so now I want to edit, order, and expand my collection with a few more poems.
  5. Create a full length poetry manuscript, tentatively titled In the Past You Were the Future. I would like to try and fit my chapbook Focus on Grammar, my Letters from the Future series (read two of them here at Anti-), my apocalyptic postcard poems, and some other poetry into one cohesive manuscript. I also imagine I will have some editing of individual poems and some writing of new poems to complement the existing poems to do. Wish me luck!
  6. Reorder and revise All About, my manuscript of loosely linked prose poems. I love these poems, and they have been well received by editors and audiences (at poetry readings), but this manuscript needs some work. Because I wrote it over a year and a half, and usually wrote a short series of 3-5 poems each time, I’m having a lot of trouble ordering in a way that creates a logical, engaging narrative. I also suspect that when the poems are in a new order I’ll discover some continuity errors and overused words. I’ve already found the word suddenly in at least six places.
  7. Write new poems. Maybe about the future. Maybe about the hit television show The Voice.
  8. Work on some prose projects I’ve been considering. Why not?

If I finish all my planned projects, or take a break, I plan to read some (if not all) of the books I brought:

  • The Babies by Sabrina Orah Mark
  • Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
  • Building Writing Center Assessments that Matter edited by Ellen Schendel and William J. Macauley, Jr.
  • Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir
  • ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors edited by Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth
  • The Haiku Handbook by William H. Higginson
  • In the Pines by Alice Notley 
  • Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser
  • Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Frasier
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl
  • Paterson by William Carlos Williams
  • The Pillow Book of Sei Shnagan translated by Ivan Morris
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
  • The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert
  • Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams 
  • Tsim Tsum by Sabrina Orah Mark

Some of these books are ones I want/need to read for work. So, I suppose that, as a last resort, I could also do some work for work while I’m here.