Monday, September 28, 2020

My nose is filled with sunsets and other aspects of the prose poem


I had a great visit this morning to Glenn Clifton's class this morning, which I think of as "2 Genres 2 Furious." We spoke about the prose poem and Glenn, the students and I had a good time writing a bunch of different kinds of prose poems. Prose poems are such an interesting form--they access the energy by being hybrid and so access the energy of other forms and the energy of mixing gengre, of being not quite one thing, and not quite the other. They are always in the process of defining what they are.

I made a PowerPoint of examples and writing activities which you can access here for all your indoor-outdoor prose poetry needs. 

P.S. Tonight, I'm launching a book of prose poems  (Me Then You Then Me Then) that I wrote with Toronto writer Kathryn Mockler. It's watchable here:

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A visit to Mahak Jain's class about poetry, writing about nothing, haiku, bad poems and awful but engaging words. MOIST MOIST MOIST!


I was delighted to speak to three of Mahak Jain's Intro to Creative Writing classes (hello, you 8am early risers--or recliners!) and made this little presentation with some ideas about writing and some writing activities. Link to slide presentation 

Though it was exceedingly strange to talk to the screen without seeing or hearing anyone (hey, that's like writing a novel) except what was written in the chat, I got used to it and everyone was really great--full of good ideas, comments, poems, and energy. 

I ran out of time in two of the classes, but in one we wrote "our very worst terrible poem," which is always really fun to do. What makes a poem terrible? And then, can it be so terrible that it becomes good? (You know, like my cooking...) What does it reveal about what we look for in poetry? Or what we avoid?

We also wondered whether poetry had to include words, such messy, hard-to-spell things. Here is a sound performance I did a couple days ago for a launch for Carousel Magazine's new issue. It's all about the sound of the voice and visuals of ampersand, both voice and visuals were processed through live interactive digital programming (Max/MSP)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

This counts as a publication, right?


Thought I'd provide an update on my novel since yesterday I hated it. I didn't hate it today. Instead, I sat outside in my backyard in the sun and wrote. I read through what I have so far and added things to improve it and took out the things that annoyed me. One passage I had fun with was the part where my aspiring writer protagonist is imagining what the epitaph on his gravestone could be. One of the ideas is the above line, which, to be honest, I think is pretty funny. 

It was very helpful to write out how I was feeling about the novel yesterday. It helped me (along with a good night's sleep!) to make a plan for today. Reading the whole thing over as one document, rather than the bits and pieces that it was, creating "chapters" by joining together passages, and overall, working to make the overall tone better and more in keeping with my narrator/protagonist. In many places, the language sounded too formal and poetic for my protagonist, so I worked to make it more colloquial and casual or at least less high-fallutin'. 

Now what do I want my epitaph to be?  

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

I hate my novel and an "emotional security air bag"

Today is one of those days when I hate my novel. 


Well there are many reasons, some of which are to do with the novel itself: 

I'm uncertain of the tone; the characters aren't yet real to me and so they annoy me: they seem a collection of manners and stylistic choices; it's just hard to write when I'm uncertain if any of it will work; I'm writing a novel about death, grief, climate crisis and love, so no wonder I'm resisting and turning that resistance into hate. 

And there are the reasons that have nothing to do with the novel. I'm exhausted. I didn't sleep well. This morning started out quite stressfully: my lawyer wife had to Zoom into three different courts and because of scheduling issues, ended up having to do it from our bed (she was dressed!) and so I had to slither out of bed and crawl, shirtless, along the floor and out the door just so I wouldn't appear to the court on Zoom! And, I don't know--I think the general aura of stress with my friends and family, in the world, takes its toll on me and my writing. I want to immediately put words to paper that make everything—everybody—better. And I want my words to shine brightly: as if they were immediately as important as everything else happening in the world. Of course, that's being ridiculously unfair to my words and the process of writing anything. 

Instead of getting down to work, I spent some time on Twitter, a moment talking to my daughter who had accidently scraped our car in the parking lot and needed insurance information (we imagined a "emotional security air bag" that would deploy whenever we needed it,) and an old high school friend of mine on Facebook was having a hard time. (She's in California, and so in addition to wildfires, Covid-19, racial crisis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death and the ensuing erosion of women's rights in the US, she is stuck alone and quarantined.) She was feeling very despairing. She had painted a painting which she thought was ugly and titled it, "I don't want to be beautiful, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead." I wanted to console her (and myself, if I'm honest) so I wrote the poem that I posted above using part of her painting's title. I posted the poem as a comment on Facebook. If nothing else, we've communicated. We have connected through her words and her painting and then my response. It does help me, at least. I feel that at least I've addressed some of what I'm feeling and what others are feeling.

I've been thinking about species interdependence. I just read the remarkable book, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (what a name!) about fungi and the entanglement of all life. And so some of this thinking went into the poem. And of course, ideas about death and what happens to us afterwards. Could this be part of my novel? I guess it could. Would a poem work with my characters/ consciousnesses? Maybe. I'll keep it in mind.

Another thing that I did (a friend had posted the piece on Facebook---I am distracted---was to take the third piece of Webern's Three Little Pieces which I love--they are tiny perfect audible haiku, entire dramas in miniature--and slow it down by half and then by half again. Even more dramatic and meditative. Here are my slow versions. The half speed one and the quarter speed one.

I also listened to a bit of a podcast recording of the Odyssey, the part where Odysseus travels to the Underworld while I shaved. I'm trying to saturate myself with a variety of visions and conceptions of the Underworld, not only to help me imagine how my novel's version might be like, but also to be able to connect my novel with past works. A kind of literary entanglement.  For this reason, I have also recently finished reading Robert Macfarlane's great book about hidden and underground places, Underland.

And then, writing this blog post helps me sort out what I'm feeling. I'm not one for keeping a journal, but sometimes writing out how one is feeling about one's writing and where one finds oneself in the world (that's so strange to use "one") is helpful and helps dissipate the anxiety (aka "hate.") If I do end up thinking the novel isn't working, of course, I have lots of time to change it. I'm not streaming it live. I have lots of time to fix. To tinker. To excise. To entirely change. I have to trust the process.

So, this afternoon, after a short walk with my wife and our dog, and after answering a pile of emails, and preparing for a reading I'm doing tonight to help launch a new issue of Carousel Magazine, I will write some more of the novel. Unless, I wait till tomorrow.

Friday, September 18, 2020

A bit from the novel-in-progress

I don't know much about my new novel yet. I do know that a wannabe comedian who works as an Asisstant Manager on the night shift at a grocery store is approached by Death to go to the underworld and bring back his (Death's) son. Death isn't able to—deaths are determined by committee—and so he asks my protagonist to do it. I have this basic plan and as I write, I discover things all the time. Does Death's son have a mother? I'm not sure. I was thinking of making him (them) non-binary and having reproduction happen in some way that Death could be the mother and father. But then the idea of Death being somehow estranged from the mother is intriguing. Of course the "mother" doesn't have to be female. I don't have to have binary genders. Or even gender at all. Maybe Death could have a partner who was non-binary or male, or else some other thing in the universe that I'm creating. This morning as I was writing, it occured to me that maybe the son died by suicide and that Death is filled with regret as well as the grief he feels for the loss of his son. All these ideas are in the air. Also, I'm trying to figure out what to call my underword. Afterlife. Otherworld. The Beneath. The Thereafter. The Whatafter. Whereafter. If you have any idea post them in the comments section below. I emailed a friend (Craig Conley) who is a lexicographer and master of the arcane. (He wrote a dictionary of one-letter words!!) He wrote me a couple great replies with suggestions, but, though great, none were quite right yet. So do let me know your ideas. In the meantime, here are some brief (and unedited!) passages from what I'm working on.

* * *

What's the difference between a giraffe and a sad life?
You don't have to live a giraffe.
* * *

"How astounding that things are alive. That materials of flesh and bone, blood, chemicals, electricity become life. That they can live.

My dog so profoundly the same as I, possessing life, thought, emotion, movement. At breakfast, he looks at me intently. We connect as living things, yet appear so different to each other through the medusa of our brains.

Birds. Squid. Fish. What is it to have life completely fill such different spaces, such divergent bodies? To have such a life in ocean, in air?

A 300-year-old tortoise, moving slowly over land, through time. We share this thing. Life. Though our time and space, movement and being seem hardly related. Lonesome Georges of our reality.
And then the awareness of not-life, of the materials, of the energy, disentangling. Of writing becoming ink and paper again, separate, other.

A joke. A story. Elements joining together to have some vital life force. Some energy not apparent until made apparent.

Outside of a dog, life is man’s best friend. Except when it isn’t."

* * *
[He writes about Vincent Van Gogh & his brother Lenny]
A joke about sending unsolicited pics of your aura to people. Your femur or uvula.
Would a modern day Van Gogh text severed earlobe pics?
Ok, so not funny but you know what makes me seethe. That song about Van Gogh that says the world wasn’t meant for someone as “beautiful” as him. Nevermind giving the poor guy the right medication, the world should get it together. It wasn’t “meant” for someone like him? Was it “meant” for anything? I know how he feels, but that’s just making something romantic out of people being judgemental and lousy. Maybe it seems like it is the world, like it’s made out of some stuff that doesn’t include you, that it has a bunch of rules, a kind of physics that means you can’t succeed or be happy, but it’s not you and it’s not the world.
My brother Lenny was beautiful, even if he wasn’t a great artist. Being real counts for something. He saw how things could be. He hoped for them. Sometimes, maybe when I’m drunk, when it’s night, when I have my guard down, I think that I sort of am, too. Why the heck not? I know I’m just some shmuck sitting at my desk in a shabby office writing things that aren’t even funny, doing a lot of waiting for life to really get going, but that’s its own kind of being Vincent, too. Maybe I’m a milliVincent or a centiVincent, but there I am, on the Vincent scale. I mean really, who isn’t. Even if they’re only a picaVincent. A nano one.
But this makes Vincent seem special, the most Vincent. Are there people who would be Two Vincents? A Vincent-and-a-half?
Obviously he was a great painter, but more beautiful than anyone else? More special? Maybe he was just really “in tune,” like Lenny was. In tune with what I don’t know.
He knew that there were rules but that not all of them had to be.
It’s the rules that make the exception. * * *

Friday, September 11, 2020


Thought this was an amazing rejection letter for a recent submission to a journal:

Thank you for submitting five poems to __________. We are unable to accept your work for publication this time around. The Poetry Editorial Board responded quite variably and strongly to these poems, admiring their craft and wit and tonal range, but disagreeing no less variably on which they preferred and why. The poems struck a bit like bowling balls, knocking different readers down in each case. Other readers elsewhere may well respond differently, too, and most of the poems will likely find good homes, so you should certainly keep them in circulation.

I couldn't resist writing a poem based on that rejection and sending it back to the journal. I'll keep you posted if they accept it or reject it again.

And, while we're talking about rejection letters, here's another one,a more interesting prose poem than what I sent: 

In some ways, I do like the style and the way the poem flows, but I feel it is too lacking in coherency and too disjointed in its rambling messages to be appreciated by the majority of readers, even if they looked up the meaning of picaresque. On first read, I was annoyed by how stereotypical some of the lines came across - but the title tells us that's deliberate and serves a purpose. I love how we start in media res, just launch in like mid-conversation - and how that's a very 'hero of the story' device. The hints of violence and a distasteful attitude come across in the voice, and the dips into more fanciful and flowery lines are where the hero tries to pull of romanticising himself/flirtations. The repetition and rambling, I feel, function as evidence of the 'hero' being a nobhead/drunk. I'm fond of prose poems, when they're good. This has a clever premise and is fairly entertaining (it matches my personal desire that these types of protagonists be examined and critiqued more in public). The question became, will our readers interpret the title this way or will they regard the poem as featuring too many stereotypes and be put off by it...? The team voted not to take the risk. But it's a decent poem.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020


What would the virus's perspective be? 

What would its goals be? How would it "feel"? 

What does it think of humans? Of the world? Of its spread? 

Would it be happy, sad, conflicted, guilty, power hungry? 

Would it be "evil" -- trying to take over the world like a superhero villain...or something else? 

How is connected to colonalism? To capitalism? To the climate crisis? To race?

What would its sense of community be like? And community with what? With other viruses? With humans? dogs?  

How might the piece of writing reflect on what you (we) are experiencing and your sense of what others are experiencing? 

What might it say about the other? About our bodies, communities, societies, government? 

What tone might you take -- Science Fiction, humorous, satiric, tragic, lyric, or some combination. A play? Poem? Pataphysical article?

How might the structure or form of what you write be influenced by the form of the virus, by how it spreads or by how it is affecting us? 

How might how you publish or distribute the work be influenced by the virus? How might you emulate its manner of distribution?