Eight-week Writing Goals and Keeping Score

It’s the first day of September and back-to-school season. Even though I retired from teaching, I’m filled with that back-to-school determination to make a fresh start with my writing practice and to take my art making more seriously.

It’s also Virgo season, a time for ordering my little universe of precarious stacks of books heaped all over my writing/yoga/study/art room.

On her blog Write More, Be Less Careful, poet and writing professor Nancy Reddy is starting an eight-week program (free!) to help writers like me accomplish and produce more.

Our task for this week is to set quantifiable and qualifiable goals.

Here are mine:

  • Write for twenty minutes a day every day in the mornings, BEFORE I do the NYT Spelling Bee because I’m too obsessive to stop before I reach *genius* level, which can take over an hour unless I cheat, which I sometimes do.
  • Read poetry and poetry-related articles every day, rather than newspapers and magazines. As William Carlos Williams says in his poem “Asphodel, that greeny flower,”

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

  • Commit to writing one blog post a week. This practice will keep me accountable, even if no one else reads what I write, and since I truly enjoy writing, it’s not a chore but rather a delight.
Doodle of Red with diary entry about gardening without gloves and tearing blisters.

Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Wuthering 111
a found tarot reading

you seek the garden
a place where
the wind will inform you
you are acquainted with
a tempest of passion
Wuthering 111

My trip to the library in April for an outdoor community poetry workshop has continued to inspire me.

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

While I skim the text, I also allow my feelings to make themselves known, and lately what comes to the surface is worry about what some people close to my heart are going through, especially as we are nearing the end of the pandemic.

I also feel the strain of resistance. Four years of resisting the tyrant, starting with the Women’s March in 2017 and the activism I engaged in through demonstrations and letter writing. My body has aches and pains all over from holding stress.

I make collage art and found poems with watercolors and Mod Podge. My little chapbooks are therapeutic for processing my journey through this tunnel of time.

April Erasure Poem

April

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

In the past, she has bequeathed me older but still completely gorgeous poetry journals. She has also inspired my love of making books by giving me decorative paper scraps from former poetry chapbooks she has hand sewn and designed through her poetry press, La Vita Poetica. I still have the paper she gave me even after sharing the bounty with summer camp kids and my own art projects.

I admire her so much and consider her to be a poetry and art mentor. Her own poetry is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve read. Although not a strict formalist, Georgia Writer’s craft of poetry is sublime.

The librarians provided packets with post-its sharpies, and pages of old magazines or discarded books–– the one that caught my eye was from a Victorian garden periodical. My packet came with a green sharpie, which struck me as an instance of synchronicity, so I went to town with the green.

G.Writer gave a brief lecture on surrealism and Dada, and then we created a spontaneous exquisite corpse, the only constraint being that half of us began our lines with “Either” and the other half with “Or.” Our collective poem became so beautiful as we uttered our phrases and images into the dome of blue sky above.

A full pink moon rose over the tree line as I drove home.

 

Foxes, Archetypes, and Escape

Lately I’ve been thinking about foxes. While walking my dog Red through the neighborhood, we saw (or smelled from Red’s point of view) a fox sunning itself in the middle of the street with a carefree attitude. It lifted its hind leg to scratch an ear as we approached. The mail carrier driving by said he sees that fox and others regularly in different parts of the neighborhood.

A large tract of farmland adjacent to our suburban street was sold a few years ago. A sizable woodland was plowed over and turned into another subdivision, so many of the animals that used to live there have had to migrate. In the last week or so I’ve encountered, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, and now, this fox.

My good friend, probably the one friend who has helped me the most to get through this pandemic in a creative and soulful way, taught a few of us how to draw a fox, and as usual, I combined my drawing with words and images inspired from archetype decks.

Fox as shapeshifter, shaman, an elusive, cunning, trickster
A more traditional fox combined with the archetype “Myth”

In western folktales, the fox is often depicted as the villain who violates the hen house, or else the concept is applied to women as “foxy ladies” in songs.

I’ve read a bit about the Japanese tales of the kitsune, and a while back I wrote this poem below that incorporates one of kitsune stories. It doesn’t feel like a finished piece to me, and I’ve since poached lines from it to include in other poems, but it does speak to a certain desire I’ve always had to journey on my own, to enter the wilderness of the world as a solo entity without protection from the structures of society.

The Fox Wife Leaves Her Husband a Note On the Kitchen Table

How to explain this need to flee our home.
She might have entered the half-moons of my fingernails
Or could it be that, when I unzipped my human sheath
To find her in my body, she had always lived here.
When the dog bared its teeth and growled
You laughed it off, but she, the one inside me,
Stopped eating. Sleepless, she stares
At the silhouette of pine branches under the moonlight,
blue-black fan of needles on the hard snow.
I've asked her not to leave, this fox inside me,
but once a dog bites, it doesn’t forget the taste of blood. I’ve left milk and rice for you and the boy.
Remember to make a paste of his meat before you feed him.
One night, I might return, if the vixen in me desires.

Plant People, Watercolors, and Escape

I’ve learned a bit more about using watercolors from London Drawing Group and their wildly brilliant series, A Feminist’s Guide to Botany.

Also, I’m still riding a wave of inspiration from December 2020 and their web event titled, A Surrealist Saturnalia Solstice.

It was a delightfully pagan evening with automatic writing to paintings by Magritte and Dorothea Tanning. The teaching artists wore horns, which I loved. We took inspiration from Max Ernst’s paintings of plants turning into birds with muscled arms.

Drawing at sunset on a still cool spring evening. Such a balm to immerse myself in fantasy, to tell stories to myself about plant people among the trees, bringing them to life while sipping a Juneshine, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and the birds.

Plant people cavorting at sunset. View from my back porch

A goddess bathes her hands and face in butterfly waves

A goddess of nature bathes her hands and face in butterfly waves

Starting in January of 2021, I joined Daily Sketch, a Zoom drawing class that meets three days a week.

The teaching artist is Meagan Burns, who, in the before times, led art workshops in Mexico and other places around the globe.

My friend discovered these daily sketch classes last year, and her enthusiasm for the experience motivated me to try my hand at watercolor sketches myself.

Meagan is a patient and upbeat instructor. She allows light banter during our warm ups, and after each 20 minute sketch, she gives us time to share our drawings. She asks where we started, what materials we used, and at the end shows us her work and how she approached the subject.

The drawing I posted above is a combination of two references, a photo of two hands opened up like a book, and another of a large butterfly that looked like it was superimposed with a layer of neon pink.

Since my drawing skills are limited at best, I always add an element of imagination to camouflage mistakes I make or to get my ego out of the way.

I love surrealism and the techniques the surrealists used to jettison conditioned thinking about art and to let chance operations and stream of consciousness come to the foreground.

So if I make a mistake with the lines, I go with the mistake and improvise with color or context. Then my imagination takes off and I start musing about scenarios and settings that are based in myth or folklore.

The poet Anne Sexton is known to have experimented with her typing mistakes by keeping them in the poem and allowing them to change the direction of her writing. In this way, I can see how my playing with watercolor sketches influences how I write and the kinds of poems I hope to create in April.

Art Journaling and Archetypes for Healing

I drew at sunset again. For the second time in a row I pulled the card Thanatos from The Wild Unknown Archetype Deck, even after shuffling the deck several times. It was the card on top. From the bottom, I drew Agape.

I tried to connect my feelings of divine love and wonder and my inner, emotional concept of death. There are some feelings about death and loss in me that I doubt my capacity to handle. Drawing and coloring, writing the actual words, helps me process my fears or doubts in a healing way.

I listened to Nina Simone and worked on reconciling living in the eternal present while looking at Thanatos as directly as I could manage, knowing that my body will one day return to the earth.

Creative Explorations With Tarot

October 13 was the full moon in Aries, which might account for my energetic impulse to sign up for an online class with Kiala Givehand called Pull, Pen, Paint.

While browsing the web for a full moon tarot spread, I came across Kiala’s course, and I was immediately hooked. She, along with several other artists, writers, astrologers, and intuitive Tarot readers, guides participants in using Tarot and oracle cards to chart a visual journey of self-knowledge.

In one of the first lessons, she shares some online places to find card spreads-today I went to Kim Krans’ page, The Wild Unknown and tried her “Awareness Spread.”

I recommend going directly to The Wild Unknown for a more detailed explanation of how this spread works, but here I’ll give you the basic order: The bottom card is the creative center, the second card is the heart center, the third card is the lower mind, and the fourth card represents the higher self.

I’ve taken a few IRL introductory workshops in card reading from Alice, Tarot Queen here in Atlanta, so I’m familiar with the basics. Alice does readings in person and through Skype in case you’re looking for someone to read your cards. She’s highly intuitive and has been studying the Tarot for a decade; she’s quite knowledgeable and kind, a perfect teacher for a newbie like me.

In addition to Alice’s teaching, I’ve also read 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, and I’m currently working my way through Mary Greer’s Tarot for Your Self, a workbook that guides the reader through ways to use Tarot for self-discovery and creativity.

All of this is to say that I only read the cards for my own purposes, although from time to time I’ll get out my deck with friends and let them tell me what they think their cards mean to them. It’s like helping someone interpret a dream. Only the dreamer knows for sure if your interpretation rings true.

Without going into all the free writing I did for this Awareness Spread, I will share a few of my conclusions. For the third card, representing worries or mental habits that might be interfering with my creative endeavors, I pulled the Devil.

Honestly, I didn’t need to ponder this one too much. I’ve gotten into a habit of scouring the news every day to find some sign that maybe the Orange Menace will be deposed. It’s an unhealthy preoccupation. I’ve let that devil take up too much mental real estate.

The Queen of Swords represents my higher self. This card is part of my birth card constellation in the sun sign of Libra, so I immediately identified with her. Swords are ruled by the element of air. It’s Libra season and the air is cooler finally. In Ayurvedic health teachings, fall is the season of vata, the air element, and this dosha happens to be the strongest for me. In fact, I tend to be highly anxious if I don’t tend to grounding myself.

I love this time of year, before the holidays when it’s good to be outdoors again in Georgia. I feel the confidence this queen of swords displays. Clear minded, able to express myself, and excited about the possibilities that await with my writing and with a bit of dabbling with paint.

Inter-National Poetry Month

This past week the semester cranked up again after Spring break, so I didn’t have as much time to write every day. I’m going to spend part of my day today revising my journey-to-nowhere rhyming poem from last week.

Instead of my own writing, I thought I’d share books I’ve read this week and other inspirations.

On long walks I’ve been listening to conversations about poetry on poet Rachel Zucker’s Commonplace. Her interviews with accomplished poets are intimate, in-depth, and engaging. So far I’ve listened to interviews with Sharon Olds and Tyehimba Jess.

Jess’s interview is particularly enlightening because it offers many pathways into gaining a better understanding of his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Olio.  The interview is almost two hours long, but it’s captivating, especially if you have a copy of the book on your lap while listening.

In the interview Jess cites his TEDXTalk where he reads his sonnet sequence about the McKoy twins. Since he provides visuals, you don’t need a copy of the book to follow along.

After listening to Rachel Zucker’s long conversation with Sharon Olds, I felt liberated. Sharon Olds seems to live in a kind of poetic trance state that resonates with me. She speaks of how she pays attention to the fleeting thoughts that come to her, the thoughts we humans have a tendency to sweep under the rug. Her words gave me insight into how to go deeper into what I truly think about myself and the world and to try to put those thoughts into my writing.

I know I hold back a lot. The hardest part of writing and of living in general is to sift through received notions about the world and to instead open up to infinite possibilities. As Alan Watts states in his lecture series Out of Your Mind, the hardest part of life [and art] is “how to create a controlled accident.” Art is the interpretation of life as it is passes through the artist. Here’s a lecture called “How to Be a Creative Artist.”

Getting Ready For April and National Poetry Month

I could spend an entire day navigating the links Maria Popova includes in her articles on Brain Pickings.

In this one, a letter Frida Khalo wrote to Georgia O’Keefe, Popova extolls the virtues of creating community through letter writing and sharing. She praises the compassion Khalo and O’Keefe showed each other when one of them was suffering, and uses their correspondence as evidence that artists don’t work in complete solitude. We thrive on support and love.

She links to Brian Eno’s concept of “scenius,” a play on the word “genius,” meaning a collective of ideas, an ecology of artists and thinkers who respond to each other and the world, which she found in the book Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.

Reading these two articles has inspired me to get back to a practice of sharing my creative process rather than storing it privately until I’m ready to publish (even though I am, in fact, publishing it here).

The poem I’ll be sharing is raw, unfinished writing that I do as a ludic exercise. I may or may not come back to it. Perhaps I’ll cull a line or two from this writing. Or maybe I’ll like the finished result!

My latest just-for-the-fun-of-it project is based on a prompt from the book The Practice of Writing Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach, edited by Robin Behn.

This book is a treasure for anyone who wants to go deeper into their unconscious mind to reveal thoughts or feelings the waking mind refuses to acknowledge.

The prompt I’m working on is titled “A Journey to Nowhere” by poet and writer Susan Snively. Snively suggests beginning the poem with a predicament of some sort in which the speaker arrives at an unexpected location. The point is to interrupt our preconceived notions and let the poem take the poet on a journey, not the other way around.

Snively gives a few pointers about how to achieve a certain cohesion in what will be a long narrative poem. I’m following one of her suggestions by following an eight-line rhyme scheme:

ABACCBCA

My plan is to write a stanza a day during the month of April.

Here are my first two stanzas. I have no title and I don’t know where this poem will take me.

A shaft of light lusters the velvet green of hills
Like a woman’s hand smoothing pleats,
Soft as the delicate calm after taking nerve pills.
Look at me, I’m on top of the world
The child says. From between large clouds
A bird of prey soars like an omen. My heart beats
In my ears, from the climb, from the load
I carry, set aside for now. As the breath stills,

The mountains extend, like branches of mind,
Or mind attaches, an appendage of mountain.
The body thins here, as though it were a kind
Of muslin scrim between me, the air, the sun.
Now permeable, flapping like a gauze blouse in the breeze
clothes-pinned to a line, a ghost living with ease
Of movement, like the bird, the sun,
Tethered, but just barely, to the Pyrennes.
It’s enough to make me leave the body behind.