Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Agave

Agave plants bloom once, late in their lifetimes, and it's pretty dramatic--a tall (ten- to twenty-foot or even taller) spike shoots up quickly over the course of a few weeks, then sprouts flowers. (This is not a technical, botanically correct description.)

After it blooms--which can take 10 years, or 20--the plant dies. (Don't fret. It has left behind little plants. For a longer version of this story, see Charlotte's Web. Or Little Shop of Horrors.)

A friend in Tucson has been monitoring a blooming plant since early April, posting updates on Instagram. It looked like variations on an asparagus stalk crossed with a Dr. Seuss illustration of a plant ready to open buds. Just a few more days, maybe, until it flowers.

Yesterday, he posted a picture of it lying across the road--high winds uprooted it.

Imagine, all that time put in to maturing, then working so hard to bloom. Then taken out before the work pays off.

A LITTLE ON THE NOSE THERE WITH THAT "LESSON," NATURE.

In a lull between movement on bigger projects, I've been desultorily working on an essay. Emphasis on desultory. I've allowed "oh who even cares" thoughts keep me from writing.

It's okay when those thoughts prevent me from submitting a piece for publication. I even checked to see if this piece still needs* to be written, and it does. It needs to be written, so I need to do it.

In this season of foul weather (check out the weather patterns across the middle of the North American continent and stay safe, y'all), some high winds are surely headed this way.

I'll keep working till then.

* "Needs" here doesn't mean for money or anything other than some inner need I have to work out something on the page. I'm incredibly fortunate that way.
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Restarting

I've been home for a week or so, but part of me still feels as if I'm traveling. That is to say, I'm still in the triage stage of return--what bills must be paid today, what else must be done for today's deadlines, what food do we absolutely need for today.

Meanwhile, some students and teachers are nearing the ends of their terms. As a result, or maybe it's coincidence, I've found some good advice out there lately. Wrap-up thoughts, if you will. A message to leave with people as they move ahead into the rest of their lives. 

One of my favorite online advice-givers is Lee Martin, a writer of novels and memoirs who also teaches in Ohio. Here is a recent blog post, Ten Precepts for the Writing Life. And here is my favorite precept (today): "Write because you know you'd be less human if you stopped."

And, if you are at a point in your writing life where you wonder what's next, or if you are venturing beyond the structure of a classroom, consider this list: Bernadette Mayer's List of Journal Ideas

Some of the more assignment-esque bits are near the bottom: "Type out a Shakespeare sonnet or other poem you would like to learn about/imitate double-spaced on a page. Rewrite it in between the lines."

Good reminders! Concrete assignments! Both help me manage returning from vacation and moving into a new season. Perhaps they will help you, too.
Thursday, May 9, 2019

Contrast

So last week I shared a photo of blue skies and sunny weather. That's where I was, and that's what the day felt like.

Here's how the weather is now, here:




















This photo doesn't necessarily reflect my mood.  But the changeable weather of springtime--especially mercurial this year, it seems--makes it a lot easier to be indoors unpacking suitcases.

I'm happy to be home, though. Vacations are nice, but so is getting back to work.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Welcome, May

I learned today that my essay "Hours of Daylight," originally published in Prairie Fire, was recognized in the Personal Journalism category of the National Magazine Awards.

Here's a picture of a blue sky on a sunny day. Because it's May! 


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

April is Poetry Month, Part 3

Disclaimer: I am not a poet. I do not write poetry, except sometimes accidentally.

Disclaimer: As a person closer to fuddy-duddy fogeydom than hipster up-and-coming-hood, I have great respect for the traditions in which I was born. Namely:
* immersion in the work that came before now, this moment when my fingers are on the keyboard
* development of skill (through education) in traditions and rules
* devotion to and respect for reflection, time, and care in expression

Disclaimer: I am not here to trash or demean "insta-poets" or "is this poetry" or "how can these young whippersnappers make millions from poetry" or whatever conversation of the moment is happening around social media and poetry. Equally, I am not here to say "we should all do this."

I'm just here to share what I enjoy. April is Poetry Month.

Last week I talked a little about my Instagram feed and the pleasures it brings. Among the images of journals, fabrics, and colourful illustrations, I enjoy an account that provides food for thought. Last week I shared Today Calls.

Today, it's nayyirah.waheed. Yes, I'm late to the party (fogey). She self-published poetry books five and six years ago. As others have, and others will. I enjoy her Instagram posts.

Again, it's a way to stumble upon poetry at random times (thanks, Instagram algorithm) throughout the day. I enjoy the experience. Maybe you would too, if you tried it.
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.