Q&A for July, 2015
Q from a writer in Ireland: Is it common for spouses or “significant others” to wonder what the hell you’re doing on the computer and why do you spend so long? I swear, I can be doing all sorts of work for everyone else, but when I start in typing a piece up or doing MY work, he hollers, “What are you doing?” It seems like they think, “Oh, she’s just writing!” Really, he’s a great person, but this irks me sometimes!!!
Q: What is the best way to learn how to write better poems?
A: First, let’s eliminate the worst possibilities. In my experience, the worst possible way is to join a class or workshop where the teacher’s or leader’s method is to show everyone what they did wrong, so go home and fix it. A good workshop , for example, using the Amherst Writers & Artists method ,will put praise for what is strong first in every response, giving the emerging poet a foundation of strength on which to offer suggestions that will help him or her to build increasing craft. Continue reading
Q: A professor of creative writing in Mississippi asks: I am going to give a talk next Sunday at the Presbyterian Church — their Sunday program on Spirituality Through The Ages. I am focusing on you and your book, Another River – I’ll pick a few poems (don’t know what yet). I would also like to include a brief writing exercise — and it would be great to include an exercise from you — if you would be so kind as to send me one.
Q: How do I believe in my own poems? I have all these poems, and I have even had a glimpse of a possible book, but how do I believe in it enough to go on?
A: You are working as an artist. As a poet. When you begin to claim yourself as poet, just as when you plant an apple tree and tend it, and wait, and listen over time, apples begin to fall into your hands. So it is when you plant yourself within yourself as poet, — poems begin to take root, grow, and toss themselves into your mind, into your hands as they move the pencil or touch the keys. They are already a part of the book that in one moment you saw. It’s magic. It’s mystery. It’s being a poet. Continue reading
Q: A poet/teacher asks: What about the “dry times,” when writing just won’t come, and it feels like the shadow of death?
A: I am moved by your sharing of the journey as poet/ teacher through the kind of “valley of the shadow of death” that most if not all of us experience at times in our writing life. It is not death, and we know it is not death, but the shadow may be more terrifying than the experience itself. Not having gone through the experience of death itself, of course, I can’t say for sure, but I do know that shadow, and it is fearsome. Your situation sounds to me like part exhaustion in your work as teacher, which does sometimes become feeding others the very food we ourselves are starved for – and part perhaps a need to do some concrete giving to yourself that will refresh the wells of your own creativity.
For me that kind of refreshment has tended to come in two ways: a silent retreat and/or working in a different genre for a time. First let me offer my own ideal, and then a “what if” that isn’t possible. Continue reading