Wednesday, April 17, 2019

April is Poetry Month, Part 2

Social media is...interesting. I appreciate its ability to connect people and try to manage its ability to exacerbate disagreements.

My (current) favourite is Instagram, where my presence is newest. I have curated what I see there carefully, so that my feed is mostly images from arts and artists, with a smattering of books, bags, and boots (none of which I am currently buying) (except within certain rules).

So, poetry. One of my favourite accounts is Today Calls, a product of artist Christof Migone. The visual is black (itself an interesting addition to what I see, given that most of my feed is so colourful), with a recording of three voices. The text each voice reads is below that day's entry.

The commentary within and among prompts is interesting. All the voices are interesting. The events that they use as prompts are interesting.

It's a really fun way to experience poetry, especially in the form of a daily moment. I haven't seen anything like it on Instagram or elsewhere. I highly recommend checking it out!

Here's a link to the project page on Christof's website. Here's a link to the project's own website.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019

April is Poetry Month, Part 1

Of all the forms writing can take, poetry still mystifies me the most. 

Prose, whether fiction or nonfiction, makes me think of lines--roads, maybe, or sidewalks, or even deertracks through grass. These lines don't have to be straight. They can backtrack or meander, they can be short or long. The lines don't even have to be connected. They can look like ||| or =. Just--they're lines. 

Maybe.

In contrast, poetry may be more like experiencing a park by sitting on a bench under one tree in that park. On one hand, you're there in that moment experiencing that bench under that particular tree. On many other hands, you're experiencing that same place in different times, different weather. You're also looking at other parts of the park, observing the blades of grass or the rocks or the cacti or the demonstrators--even if the poem doesn't direct you to look at them, they're there. All without the poet specifying those things.

Maybe. 

Maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe it's just the word count. Through the years of writing as work, creating captions--for photos or objects in museums and galleries--challenged me the  most. I prefer to tease out nuances (more and more and more words, like in this parenthetical), not distill to the "most important" points.

Regardless, April brings attention to poetry, and that's a good thing. Here are some of my favourite ways to experience it.

1. Academy of American Poets, Poets.org. They share a poem a day. You can browse poets. You can read about poets. 

2. Poetry Foundation features content from Poetry magazine, as well as poems and information about poetry and poets.

3. Vicki Ziegler, @bookgaga on Instagram and Twitter, is a Canadian social media manager and reader--and originator of one of the best ideas EVER, the Silent Book Club. She shares #todayspoem on Twitter. She's great. I can count on the #todayspoem tweets to be a bright spot in my feeds.

However you feel about poetry, why not make a point of looking for it, in one of its iterations, in April? It's a way to pass the time while spring has her weather tantrums.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Truth, Fact, Memoir, Fiction, History, Journalism

As I've mentioned, this Thursday evening is "Ask an Author," a panel discussion in Thunder Bay in which four writers with different backgrounds and publishing experiences answer questions.

On Saturday, participant Jeannette Lynes is presenting two workshops, sponsored by NOWW: one about novel basics, and another about historical research and writing. Fun times ahead!

Also recently, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs held its conference. If you've seen mention of "AWP 19" in the writerly social media world, that's what it refers to.

The most recent issue of Assay, a journal of nonfiction, has lots of interesting articles about nonfiction, what it is, and ways to teach it.

All of which is to say, many recent conversations (both aloud and in my head) have turned over the differences and similarities between truth and facts, creative nonfiction and journalism, historical fiction and history, memoir and memory. For starters.

As I paired and re-paired ideas, I remembered reading this recent essay about memoir at LitHub (a great place to visit when you want to read something good): "Against Catharsis: Writing is Not Therapy," by T Kira Madden. In it she describes an incident she experienced, and looks at the way her memory and her own experiences colored her description of the incident. It's a fascinating look at the strengths and purposes of memoir, especially the importance of reflection and analysis to making writing meaningful from raw events. She discusses the two composite characters in her own memoir and their roles--who they are and who they are not.

It could all seem a little too meta, too much writing tangled up in writing about writing. Unless, of course, you also write memoir or personal essays or some other form of creative nonfiction, and you wonder on the daily how that is different from journalism and historical documents and historical fiction. And why someone might base a story on real events in a real setting, but call it fiction.

Or why, in a book club of people who are mostly readers instead of writers, people are so fascinated by "did this really happen?" in the context of novels, and how they feel about the work based on that question's answer.

My favourite part of these discussions is that there aren't concrete answers. Different people have different standards. For me, it comes down to this: a writer can't squander a reader's trust. So, as in the subtitle of Madden's essay, show your wires. Be frank with the reader about what you're doing. And let the discussions continue.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Fun Upcoming Event

April 4, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at the Mary JL Black library, this is where I'll be:


That's my husband, Roy, who's currently prepping to answer questions in a panel format.

I participated in a similar event last year. It was different--in February, with one-on-one chats available.

This year's panel format will allow for those on the panel to comment and learn from each other too. Should be fun. 

This event is one of many sponsored by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop from (roughly) September through May. Many events are free. Others have a nominal cost. All are worth checking out!

For more information about NOWW, go here.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Names, and Why to Use Them

Last year, my essay "Atomic Tangerine" appeared in The New Quarterly. In it I reckon a bit with names of things. 

When I moved here a dozen years ago, I wanted to learn everything about this place, and learning names seemed like a good start. 

Then I started to ask why--why did it matter whether that wildflower was a butter-and-egg or a marsh marigold? 

And after that came "so what?" A reader could probably guess that a butter-and-egg would be yellow (butter, eggs...)...and the point is??

I've been thinking about the "so what?" issues around names as I continue revising my novel, which is set in northwestern Ontario. Perhaps a character notices that the types of trees in northwestern Ontario are different from those nearer Toronto. Why bring it up at all? What does that say about him? Does he even know the names of the types of trees? 

I've recently read Melissa Harrison's novel All Among the Barley, a coming-of-age story set in farming country in East Anglia in the 1930s. One of my favourite elements of the story is how Edith, the fourteen-year-old point-of-view character, walks through their farm describing what she sees. 

I can't necessarily see what she sees from the names she uses. (I had to research to learn that the fabulously named wildflower "jack-go-to-bed-at-noon" is gold, for example. Well worth the time to learn it.) But the names mean something to Edie. She can see them--she knows this landscape, she's grown up in it. So of course she uses the names.

Another example: The family (I typed that "farmily" originally, which I like) has named their fields and meadows: Broad Field, Great Ley, Long Piece, Far Piece, Newlands. When Edie looks out over the farm, or walks among the fields and meadows, she names them casually, because to her, that's what they're called, in the same way someone might refer to Main Street or Broadway. 

In that book, that's one of the "what for?" answers; there may be others. It's a rich book, scarily prescient as to politics, and well worth reading.

It remains to be seen in my own work why characters name things--which is (part of) the fun of revision. Or so I tell myself.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Toast Workarounds and Multitasking

I have cut way back on small-picture multitasking, which I define as "doing more than one thing at a time." Listening to podcasts while exercising or stretching (which I actually do fairly often because they combine successfully). A less successful example is listening to podcasts while scrolling a newsfeed and ostensibly carrying on a conversation.

However. Bigger picture, I still multitask, by which I mean "working on several projects in the course of a specific time period." Within the same day or two or three, assembling information for income taxes. Preparing (cleaning and cooking) to host the book club. Revising. Writing. For example. 

Sometimes, small-picture multitasking results in toast that looks like this.


I do like almost all toast, and I'm old enough now to eat it even when it has burned bits. However. It's not my preferred toast. I am capable of better. 

But I'm not delivering because I'm not paying attention solely to the toast for the minute it requires. And because I'm not paying attention, the previous workaround I'd devised to create uniformly light-brown toast is no longer successful. See, the loaves of bread we like are too big to fit comfortably in the toaster. So I turn down the setting, put the toast in end-up, and, after one round, flip ends.

Even with my workaround, the center does usually end up being darker than the edges, because it gets two rounds. But it's not not usually this dark. Because usually, I am not multitasking in the small-picture sense, at least not in the way I have been lately.

However. In the next few days I will be able to smooth out some bumps and get back to the usual round of working. I will go back to having lovely toast, made with the skill I know I possess. 

At some point, I may even create a big enough space between projects to find a toaster that will accept the bread we like without the workaround. Just not today.

::crunch crunch::
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Revision as Decluttering

I'm revising a novel, and not for the first time. In the previous large revision of this work, I eliminated an entire point-of-view character.

It was a satisfying revision--visible in lots of ways. The word count dropped by nearly one-third, in about five minutes. Poof, all those words, gone. (Into a scratch file, but realistically? Gone forever.)

That change required a cascade of other revisions, mostly simplifications, which required time and a bit of help.

For the past few months, I've been doing a different kind of revision, one that I think of as more on the "decluttering" end of a spectrum that includes "renovations" and "building a new house."

Taking out that point-of-view character and her whole odyssey are more like renovations, where you take off that deck that was never really useful.

Other revisions are smaller but still have easily defined edges. For example, downsizing from two bedrooms to one lets you ditch an entire bedroom's worth of furniture. That feels like the simplifying and streamlining I did after removing a character.

Now I'm working even smaller, closer to the decluttering end. I'm culling all the crap that's accumulated over the course of this novel's lifetime. I don't want to chuck everything--a lot of what's happening feels coherent. But much is extraneous.

I can't even use the currently popular "does it spark joy?" question because I'm quite fond of some of the things that have to go. They don't work, even though they're sweet moments or nice images.

I'd like to believe I'm at the "does this word stay or go?" revision, but that's wishful thinking. I'm not ready to pick up every book on a shelf--or even think about it yet.

Perhaps I'm more at the "two bookshelves are plenty in this room, so we should ditch these other two" phase.

These declutter revisions are frustratingly invisible. That's why I log the word count. It's dropping by 500 to 1000 words a day. Not quite as satisfying as ridding a house of bedroom furniture, but good enough for now.