Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Power of Poetry

I believe that poetry, both reading and writing it, has the power to fill our hearts, change our minds, and feed our souls. When prose refuses to bend and comply with my expressive wishes I turn to poetry in order to get my feelings on paper. I prefer accessible poems and poets who I can relate to, who see the world in such minute detail that I view the world in new ways and come to think and feel differently.

Early morning is the most conducive time to write poetry, read poems, or read about poetry. The stillness and quiet, the blue gray light of dawn, a bird singing somewhere on a tree branch. The sun peeking like a rose over the tips of the trees all lend an ethereal feel that sings poetry to me.

Today I received Mary Oliver's newest collection of poems called "Devotions."

It is a collection of poems from all of her previous books. I never tire of reading her work. So singularly does she describe the fauna and flora of her native homes of Ohio as a child, Provincetown, Massachusetts as a grown woman, and now Florida as she enters her 80s and continues to be the diva of nature poetry.

Having all these poems in one book is heaven, and knowing these are favorites fills my heart. Touching the book brings pleasure and I will drink in each poem slowly and with great attention and care.

I plan to use these poems as launching points for some new poems of my own. She is such an inspiration in all ways. No one I have read ever has described a swan as a boat filled with white flowers, or a blue heron as a Buddha, or the tight green fist of a peony bud as something powerful enough to break her heart as the pink lace like petals unfurl in the spring sunshine.

I know reading these poems again will enable me to see my own natural environment as the treasure that it is and to be able to write poems that honor each moment I spend outdoors in this world.

Thank you Mary Oliver for your poems and your astonished attention to nature, and to your ability to tell about it in the most beautiful ways.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Rejuvenating My Writing Energy

For the past few weeks art has overtaken my writing energy. I love art journaling and using visual images to express myself. I also love getting paint all over my hands and engaging in play on the page through intuitive abstract painting. But at heart am a writer and I need to get my head back in that game.

I did accomplish quite a bit of writing in the online class I took in August, but once it was over I returned to art. Now it's time to write and as synchronicity would have it Melanie Faith is offering a prompted daily writing class through WOW-womenonwriting.com. It begins on November 1st--just in time. I have a few weeks to reset my mind. Melanie is a wonderful and supportive teacher and I have taken many classes with her in the past, both in fiction and poetry. Her guidance is wonderful and she shares lots of prompts, quotes and inspiration on a daily basis. The class lessons are guided by Natalie Goldberg's book "Writing Down the Bones" which is an iconic writer's guide I've read it twice and look forward to rereading my dog-eared copy when I take this class.

Let's face it, or let me face it, I don't think writing a novel is in my life. It's an onerous task and I'm too old for it, though I haven't totally trashed the idea yet. It seems any time I open a novel and begin to read the urge to write a novel returns. It sends tiny electrical charges through my nervous system and my veins and I can almost feel my fingers tingle with the anticipation of moving pen across the blank page or letting my fingers tango over the keyboard. I'm destined to write, or doomed to write, whichever way you, or I, wish to see it. It's like breathing to me and to not write is to suffocate.

I hope to post some of what I write in this class on this blog though I am still not sure of copyright issues or the potential to have a story stolen. Perhaps that fear ignores the fact that who wants to steal my stories anyway. I'll figure it out but I hope my readers will join me on this journey. Perhaps send out a few words to your writer and reader friends to hop on this blog and see what I come up with.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing for 20 Minutes a Day

I recently enrolled in an online class that requires writing for twenty minutes a day. The class is offered by Story Circle Network which is an international organization that provides support and resources for women who want to tell their stories. If you are a woman who writes I highly recommend joining. The class I'm taking is facilitated by Len Leatherwood who is an amazing teacher. I've taken several classes with her and have always benefited by her encouragement and guidance.

This class has helped me to rearrange some of my thoughts about writing. Initially I thought the class would help me do more free writing. I just finished a poetry collection and a chapbook of flash fiction and I wanted a break from such structured types of writing. But in the end the reverse actually happened and it has opened an old but sealed off door for me.

In the first week of the class I used my morning journal time to write pieces to submit. In the process I reawakened my desire to write novels. I had abandoned my novel in order to write shorter works as well as to work more in my art journals. But I know I can never totally stop writing novels. I love to read them and they are fun to write. Yes, at times I don't feel like writing. Yes, at times the idea of writing a 300 page manuscript is overwhelming, and then there is the reality that it will need at least three revisions in order to call it finished. But I'm running out of excuses not to write my novel.

I have plot and subplots. I have characters. I have a strong outline. And I've written several pages already. Well, many pages.

What I concluded is that in the next three weeks of this class it would be an excellent and productive use of my twenty minutes of daily writing if I spent those writing minutes writing the  third version of a first draft of this novel that has been plaguing me for seven years. Why not use the time to get this novel back on its feet instead of just writing three pages a day that will go nowhere?

The challenge is set. I need to use this time to write my novel and I hope that those twenty minutes stretch into a couple hours a day of writing so I can get this done.

I'll keep you posted. Come along for the ride!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Community of Writers

Writing is of course a lonely activity. You sit at your desk with silence and solitude your best friends. Closed doors are a treasure and you get settled in, shutting down your phone and disconnecting your internet. You don't want distractions or interruptions, Alone at the keyboard or notebook you let the plots of your novels unwind as you meet new characters who help or hinder your protagonists' goals. Along the way you conjure up stories in the most magical but comprehensible language you can muster and it is a lovely way to spend a few hours a day.

But eventually you need a community of other writers. When I lived in New York I had such a group. Over a period of fifteen plus years we met one Saturday a month to commiserate over wine and good good. We shared what we had been writing and received gentle but honest critiques. We talked about our personal lives and about the challenges of writing and trying to get published. It was a welcome three hours a month for writers who spend so much time alone.

We called the group "Tapestries" because we saw ourselves as seven women intricately woven together in this writing journey. Over the years some members came and went but there were three of us who endured for most, if not all, of those fifteen years. We were lucky because we all had a common commitment to writing and to the group. Our writing ability was fairly equal and finally in the last few years we were each writing a novel. A critique group working on a common genre is easier to navigate and more effective. Lucky too that our personalities meshed well, which isn't always easy with a group of women. We got along so well that finally we created our own writing retreat.

Twice a year we headed to Montauk Point and stayed in the Sea Crest Resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Amagansett. There we experienced the privacy and solitude we needed to write since we were away from family and household errands and chores. There was nothing to do but write and read, and of course eat and drink wine and tea.

Though three of us shared one apartment and we were not totally alone, we were all there to work on whatever novel we were in the process of writing or revising. There is something about that collective energy of a group of people sharing a similar goal with a similar need for silence and time to work. That energy infuses the writer with motivation to do the work that must be done to get a novel written and ready for submitting to agents or editors. And it worked sublimely. Even chilly and windy walks on the beach added to an ambience that enriched our creativity and our writing.

Now that I live in Southern California I don't have a writing group. I am looking for one because I want the support and critique of other writers. But it will never be the same as "Tapestries." There will never be that bond among a group of women with like spirits and like commitment to writing. I miss those gals terribly and wish I could fly back to New York once a month for our meetings. If not that than I would love to fly out twice a year and join them in Amagansett. 

Maybe then I could get this novel finished.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writing Begins with Yoga

I wake at dawn as soft light penetrates through the window blinds mere feet from my bed. Though the idea of staying cozy beneath the sheets is tempting my bladder and my brain have other ideas. The bladder, well that needs no explanation. When she calls I must answer and once I'm up my brain kicks in and going back to sleep is a lost and foggy idea.

As I brush my teeth and wash sandy sleep from my eyes, ideas begin to tumble along neural pathways and lodge themselves in wormy gray matter. Even if I'm sleepy, and crawling back into bed with my snoring husband is inviting, I push myself to my writing room. These precious silent minutes alone are perfect for a writer. What chances I get once my husband is awake will have to be carved out of the daily grind, or other adventures we take in our new home in Southern California. There is so much to explore and of course shopping, laundry and cleaning are additional critters pushing away delicate hours I could spend constructing poems or revising the new short stories mounting up in my notebook. Then there is the novel outline I've been sculpting for too long.

So I go to my room and gently close the white door, effectively blocking out the rest of my life. I walk to the window and as gray light turns golden I begin to stretch. I have found that yoga is a way to center myself before I get to my desk. It revs up the pathways in my brain and lets my muscles know they better wake up.

After stretching each muscle group and opening up my chest and hips with delicate asanas and deep breathing I go into sun salutation, a nice flow of yoga poses that both calm and alert my mind and body.

Now I am ready to sit at my desk, awake and focused. I begin with morning pages as per Julia Cameron and "The Artists' Way." This not only lets me vent any concerns and get the minutiae out onto the page, it also helps me focus my writing goals for the day, week, month, year. Now I know where I am headed and I have a trail of deadlines to follow to get to the end. Morning pages also allow me to write about my diet and fitness goals. You can't sit in a chair all day and not get up and move. I have to have a plan to keep my body healthy and strong so I can accomplish all these writing projects.

Beginning the day with yoga helps bring focus and flexibility to my body and to my writing.

I will add some candlelight and watch the pages and stories mount up as the light gentle flickers and scents the room with vanilla.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Synchronicity for Writers

Synchronicity comes in a variety of packages and at myriad times if only we are open to hear those whispered voices. For writers and other creatives synchronous events and unexpected connections are the gifts we need to keep going when challenges or deadlines get too much for us. Recently certain connections have made it possible for me to get back into writing mode and set art journaling aside. Oh I'm not giving up art journaling but I'm definitely curtailing it to two or three times a week. Writing every day is more crucial if I'm to meet my goals. So here are the happenings that lead me to focus more.

Firstly I heard about a woman in the Temecula Valley Woman's Club who has written and published three novels and I am meeting with her on Friday. The value of a partner in this writing life is crucial and since we moved from New York to California I am missing my writing group of amazing women.

Last night we attended the monthly meeting of the Temecula Valley Art League and I happened to be talking with a woman about possible places I could find a writing group. A few minutes later, during an acrylic painting demo that was truly remarkable, she tapped me on the shoulder and introduced me to a man who belongs to a critique group. At first I feared it was the local library group that turned out not to be very welcoming but no, it's a different group. I will try it out to see how it fits.

Yesterday I discovered that one of my favorite online teachers, Melanie Faith, is offering a novel outlining class in September. Part of me wants it to be sooner so I can get my novel set up to write. But it actually works out fine. I enrolled in the class and I know it will be coming up but in the meantime I will take these few months to finish my two current writing projects.

The first is a chapbook of haibun and tanka prose that I am writing for a contest in August. I have three online poetry classes over the months of May and June and that should result in enough poems for the chapbook and give me the month of July to revise and properly order the poems.

The second is a chapbook of connected flash stories that I've been nurturing for a while now. I'm using my present online class in Writing Short with Len Leatherwood to write and get some critique on a few of the stories. And this project, called "Thursdays at Seven," has just given rise to an ongoing writing project I am heartily looking forward to.

I want to take the main character of these stories and expand it into a novel. The chapbook project will give me time and space to develop her character and her problems and find a direction for the novel. Though the chapbook and the novel will be able to stand alone, the novel will be a direct spinoff from the stories in the chapbook. From there I would like to take three other characters and create novels with them as the protagonists. It will be a romance series with a setting in the vineyards of the North Fork of Long Island. Again, writing these flash stories will give me a chance to build these characters and there stories. A way to get to know where I can go with bigger stories about each one.

Everything seems to have aligned this week to put me in writing mode and I can't ignore the signals. The colorful paint will have to be brushed aside and replaced with my blue, purple and red pens, and yellow highlighters. The canvases and art journals will be replaced by spiral notebooks and moleskine journals as well as my computer and printer.

The writing life awaits at the tip of my pen and I am ready for it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Is Poetry Dead? Please say it isn't so!

At least once a month my husband and I spend a morning in Barnes and Noble sipping coffee and exploring. He will browse art magazines and cookbooks while I explore books based on my current topic of interest.

On Sunday we spent just such a morning. When we got to Barnes and Noble soft music was playing, just right for reading, but it soon morphed into something more popular and downright annoying. I want classical or smooth jazz and preferably instrumental when I'm reading. I would also prefer the absence of other people's conversations but it is a public place after all and I have to adjust.

At various times my focus has been art magazines and books, literary journals, self-help books, inspirational musings or sometimes health and cookbooks. I always spend some time among the shelves of fiction looking for a new author or one of my favorite author's latest release to add to my ever growing pile of fiction. Sometimes my focus is on writing and that may include novels, memoir, short stories or poetry. This particular visit was focused on poetry.

There were new books by Marie Howe, Billy Collins and Philip Levine to look at. I was also browsing for new poets to get to know and maybe even find a book about writing poetry but alas poetry has been relegated to a small space.

April is National Poetry Month but apparently Barnes and Noble did not get that memo. It was not advertised and none of the new poetry collections were highlighted. In fact the poetry section of this particular store is hidden in a back corner behind children's toys. It is not part of the literature section as it is in other branches of B and N. And it is small and wanting. There are few if any collections by the likes of David Whyte, Marie Howe, Sharon Olds or other well known poets of our times. And the books that are there are out of order though the little metal label on the shelf says "in alphabetical order." I managed to find two of the books I wanted--"My Lost Poets" by Philip Levine and "The Rain in Portugal" by Billy Collins but I was frustrated and annoyed at the slim pickings offered.

It occurred to me though that perhaps poetry is dead. Well it surely isn't for me or for the other new poets out there squeezing poems from their veins and trying to get published and known. But it's reign seems somewhat diminished and that disturbs me.

How can we raise poetry to the level it should be? How can we advertise and increase its importance?

There are poems of love and protest, grief and longing, birth and death. Each line of poetry written not only displays the poet with her heart and soul wide open but helps her heal, helps her have a voice, helps her reach out and touch other human life forms. We need to send this message out to young people, students and teachers, seniors and scholars.

Bring poetry back to the classroom but make it real not a chore. Study the newer poets and the accessible poets. Billy Collins and Philip Levine who write of everyday man and his struggle for life worth living. David Whyte and Mark Nepo who touch the soul with words that open you up to the world. Mary Oliver who will show you all the life there is on this earth and teach you to notice it, be astonished by it and respect it.

The world needs poetry now more than ever. Pull it out of the darkness, out of the corner of the store behind the bright colored toys and for heaven's sake, if you are a book store, at least give a little sign that you are aware it is National Poetry Month.