Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Freewriting Again

because I tell my students to do it

serenity is the wrong colour of police lights
cosy, serene blue wailing crazy down the street.

Black men snuggling blondes
in a pub
even the White men don’t speak
English.

unseasonable weather
Katrina, Katrina, Katrina
unrecognisable siren.
is it death or healing singing

tonight?
two boy children zip past

my 8:30 table rocking
bedtime. where is
your mother? where am
I? now at this suckling hour,

my student waves at me from a bus.
it is the first time this has happened
here. waving happens to other people.
it is a thing from my past

where women dress all in black
and wear white shoes

confidant. uncaring.
startled and sad
I realise nobody
ever told an entire nation

of women, you are too old
to dress in this manner.

They are a constrained
frivolous group of random

garments
which mean nothing in context.

A middle age woman struts
in a lilac satin formal skirt
topped with a sporty cotton hoodie
as if

most women wake; greet
each of their individual body parts;
and invite them to decide
in what manner they will be less offended today.

the hips want sweat
pants. breasts desire
silk black camisole.
feet demand sandals -
birkenstocks specifically -
imagine.

allowing your body
this level of control.
what havoc would ensue?
but tea always happens

and biscuits are served
with vicious politeness.

a man on a cell steps outside of the pub
to walk in circles
“i’ll be there, yeah, i’ll be there
cheers mate, cheers.”

blue is the Holy Mother’s colour
why is it screaming,
chasing, trying
to bring gunfire

to a firearm
free nation

which has no choice but to shoot
offenders now. my heart.
Would you tell me? offer it
as sashimi? yes i agree,

the rice feels like too much
of an accessory -
like these women
who use a blue strip of sequins

for a scarf on cloudy days.
these things after all

connote choice.

Rest

after a long day
working. we touch

every five minutes.
he watches me

pee, shadows
me through

this den. at night,
we are animals

snorting, mammals
heaped in a labyrinth.

slumbering limbs
twitching, breathing

synchronous hearts
and farts marking

this room we share.
his warmth breath

chills my wet nipple.
having just slid

from his mouth.
the clutching

other hand
fondles

my breast.
dreams. peace

without teeth.
but warm

milk
begins.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Fourth Class

at CityLit

1. Housekeeping
A. Internet
1. We are trying to resolve the issue of the listserve.
2. Exceptionally good facilities are available in the CityLit Support Centre on the Mezzanine Level of the building. You can use the internet, access email, type assignments and print. (I think printing costs 5p.) Additional free internet access can be found at your local public library.

2. Listening Exercise
Task: We listened to three spoken word pieces by Austin, Texas writer, Ernie Cline.

Goal: Gain a greater understanding of how language works and of the devices used by writers. Introduce to you to skills used by modern professional writers. Recognise both fictional and poetic techniques.

Material Presented / Discussed:

A. The three tracks from his CD, entitled Ultraman Is Airwolf, “Pick Six,” “Curriculum Vitae” and “Tech Support” all dealt with issues ‘average people” experience everyday.
1. His characters do and say things many people wish they themselves can do or say.
2. His characters validate feelings we have all experienced.
3. He transforms the day-to-day requirements of survival (job interviews, working and methods of coping) into an exciting, funny self-affirming story.
4. He employs the device of comedy.
5. His work clearly demonstrates that our material is all around us.
6. More of Ernie’s work can be heard at:
http://www.ernestcline.com/spoken word/

B. Storytelling and poetry began as a spoken art. Eventually, humans developed systems to document and preserve these stories and poems. Using clay tablets, stone, papyrus - whatever was at hand - they began to capture language. Once the word was captured, they began to develop systems and rules about how words “should” be used. At first, the stories and poems which were preserved were luxury items available only to a few. The idea of “the plot,” or “the tragedy or comedy,” “poetic form,” “rhyme schemes” began to surface. With the invention of the printing press, the word was elevated to a stagnant, contained set of rituals performed by an intellectual elite for a worthy audience. It was separated from its origin as a fluid, living sound object . Still - the art of storytelling - lived on in the form of bards, minstrels, travelling players, or griots. Quickly changing technology eventually made stories available to all people. This is largely due in part to the fact that since the beginning of time - human beings have always needed people who can use words to help them better understand the world around them and the people in it. As a result, we are left with a myriad of options available to us as modern writers. There are thousands of rules, systems, beliefs and attitudes about how a story or a poem works best. Ultimately, we must find our own voice and way for ourselves. our own voice. Being true to our hearts is the best way to write.

C. Ernie Cline began his career in the poetry slam.
1. A poetry slam is a competition of performance poetry invented by Chicago poet, Marc Smith in 1990. It was created in response to the way in which poetry had become largely inaccessible to “the common man.”
2. Slam poetry is a movement which is growing internationally. Every year, in the United States, the National Poetry Slam is held. Cities from the United States and Canada (and this year France) send teams of 3 poets to compete.
3. At a poetry slam, anybody is allowed to sign up to read a poem. They have 3 minutes to perform an original poem of their own creation. They must not use props, costumes, pre-recorded music or instruments. Five judges are selected randomly from the audience. These judges rate the poems on a scale of 1 to 10 using decimal points.
4. In its 15 year history, a several “slam forms” have begun to emerge. (We will discuss these “slam forms” in future classes.) However, past slam champions have used poetic forms such as villanelle and sestinas. This is less common today. For awhile - the National Poetry Slam also sponsored a Haiku Slam during the national competition.
5. More information about poetry slams can be found at:
http://www.poetryslam.com
http://slampapi.com
The Idiot’s Guide To Slam Poetry by Marc Smith, Alpha Books
Poetry Slam, edited by Gary Glazner, Manic D Press

3. Homework Discussion
Task: On a slips of paper, everyone in the class completed the following phrase:

People would be surprised to know that I.......

We traded slips. We wrote about “the surprising thing” as if you are that person. You must use the first person and you must use dialogue.

(Many thanks to Helena Blackmore at University Of East London for teaching me how to turn party games into writing exercises.)

Goal: Use the skills necessary to think and write creatively. Gain a greater understanding of the devices used by writers. Loosen the imagination. Recognise and practice fictional techniques. Respond to and assess pieces of of writing with sensitivity. Practice new writing skills.

Material Presented:
A. Everyone who had received the assignment and completed it read their work. We discussed the work as a group. Then, the person whose “secret” had been “taken.” spoke about whether or not the piece was accurate to them and/or how it felt to have their ‘secret” stolen. Thanks for the truly exceptional pieces prepared. More importantly, thanks to everyone for giving their classmates such great material with which to work!!!!

B. Using the first person helped to free the imagination. It served as a way of getting closer to the character because, in some manner, the writer had “to become” this person. In becoming this person, the writer had to discover some level of empathy and understanding for someone completely different than themselves. It forces us to move past stereotypes and assumptions about people who are “not like us.” It opened a door to our shared experience as human beings.

C. It is okay to take other people’s stories. Everything a writer experiences, stumbles past, or witnesses is fair game. We don’t have to write from our own experience all of the time - nor do we have to have directly experienced an event to take it and make it our own.

D. Stealing facts allows you to disengage from yourself and your own perspective and move into another person’s reality. Anything can happen because there is “no real story” which is confined or constrained by your own intellectualised version of a memory. This frees the imagination to go new places.

E. Research helps a character become more believable. But - it need not constrain or limit a piece. You don’t have to communicate every single boring detail about for example: someone’s profession. These details can be used to help structure a clear picture of why the character does what he does in the context of the larger story.

F. There is never one audience. No one likes “everything.” You can not speak to all people.

G. Everyone has a deep and meaningful story. Dig deep and then deeper.

H. If you want your story to be told the “right way,” you’d better do it yourself.


Final Thoughts:

1. August Wilson (1945 - 2005)
African-American playwright and winner of a Tony Award and two Pulitzer Prizes died last week. He was an exceptional, generous, gentle and funny man.

Wilson grew up in The Hill District section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (My hometown.) In his youth, The Hill District was a thriving, self-contained Black community. It became famous for having exquisite jazz clubs. Every jazz and blues singer back in the day passed through Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is uniquely situated as a pass through point for New York, Philadelphia Washington, D.C., and Chicago. As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, the City Of Pittsburgh exercised eminent domain in a fit of “urban renewal” and razed the business district in order to erect a stadium called the “Civic Arena.” It put many Black-owned businesses, night clubs and cultural centres out of business. Since this happened simultaneously with desegregation, many of the Hill district’s professional Black families moved to “better neighbourhoods.”

Wilson is the only person to have received a high school diploma from the Carnegie Library. He dropped out and educated himself after being accused of plagiarism at Gladstone High School. He was accused of this because the paper he turned in ‘couldn’t have been written by an African-American.”

Wilson went on to change the face of American theatre. He is the only African-American playwright to consistently be produced in theatres run by and primarily attended by Whites. His plays gave consistent opportunities for employment for Black actors. He is most famous for ‘The Pittsburgh Cycle,” - ten plays set in each decade of the 20th Century and the one play which made it to the screen, The Piano Lesson. (Of “The Pittsburgh Cycle,” Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one set outside of Pittsburgh and takes place in a recording studio in Chicago.) The Pittsburgh Cycle took him 20 years to write. He only completed the last play, Radio Golf, shortly before his death. Finally, he was generous with both his time and money to emerging Black voices. He was a generous supporter of Cave Canem (http://cavecanempoets.org) and requested this organization be a recipient of donations in lieu of flowers.

There are numerous funny tales about August Wilson the young writer. One that stands out - in relation to our homework - is that Wilson carried a notebook around with him everywhere he went. He wrote down everything he heard in barber shops, cafes, clubs, street corners. He was recording dialogue. Years later as we look at his plays, we begin to understand why he was a master playwright. The time he spent learning - the nuances of human speech, how everyday conversations tell a story, the special individual ways people twist and turn phrases - earned him a distinct place of honour in the theatrical world.

What many people don’t know is that Wilson always wanted to be a .....poet.

2. When I was a child, there was a toy which was a thin piece of multicoloured paper wrapped around and glued to a wooden stick. Your story is like that toy.

You must pick up that bit of stick and paper and begin running. The paper unfurls and streams out behind you in a twisting, thrilling flash of colour. You run and run and run until the paper falls off.

That’s stepping away. That’s grabbing a story and letting it go.


Homework

A. You were given the following reading material from Extreme Exposure: Solo Performance Texts From the 20th Century, by Jo Bonney.

1. Laurie Anderson, “New York Social Life,” from United States.
2. John O’Keefe, excerpt from “Shimmer”
3. Anna Deavere Smith, “Elvira Evers...To Look Like Girls From Little” from Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

B. Writing Assignment
1. Choose a person about whom you have very strong feelings. (An ex-lover, a teacher, a family member, a child, a former boss, a friend with whom you no longer speak.)

2. Pick a distinct and clear memory which is charged with conflict, an obstacle, or a miscommunication.

3. You are now no longer you. The person is no longer that specific person. Changing some of the circumstances and true details....

4. and using only dialogue, write a conversation between these two people.
Who are they?
What is the relationship between the people in this scene?
What kind of history do they have together?
What do they want from each other?
Who should the reader empathise with?
5. Set the “scene.”
Where are they?
What is the weather like outside?
Is anyone else watching them?
6. Build on the scene.
How did they come to be in this situation?
How are they going to get what they want?
What is in each person’s way?
Why should they get what they want?
7. Escalate the “drama.”
What are they doing to prevent each other from getting their way?
How can they resolve the situation?
What happens?
What is going on with their bodies?
What are their emotions?
How does this show?
What is the weather like outside?
8. Find a resolution.
How do they leave this situation?
What did they learn?
Why is it important?
What are they both looking forward to next?

You may insert one line descriptions between the dialogue such as: “They rush towards each other.” or “Thunder sounds in the distance.” The answers to the above questions may be answered through dialogue or may implied in the conversation. Tip: eavesdrop on people over the next week to discover how much conversation reveals and doesn’t reveal.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Third Class

At CityLit

1. Begin IT! The Writer’s Ritual, A Reminder
A. Get a notebook.
B. Writers who succeed are writers with discipline. Write in it everyday - discipline.
C. Try writing at different times of day. This way you will find the best time for you.
D. Make a place for yourself to write. If you write in the same place and it is always ready for you...it makes it easier to find the words. You build energy there and train your mind that this is the place where you make words.
E. Find a place to post your positive statement. (On your notebook. On the bathroom mirror. Anywhere you will see it regularly.)

2. Discussion
A. By the time we leave this class, I want everyone to have been launched on a personal odyssey towards their voice as well as a have project to go with it. This way the class will live on after it is finished. Make sure I see your work. It will help me to help you find your voice.

B. I’ve been hearing a desire to know more about different forms of creative writing. Such as, “what is a poem?” and “what is “creative non-fiction?” These haven’t been introduced because I’m hoping you will not begin to label your work. I don’t want you to put your words “in boxes” at the moment.

I’ve been hearing the yearning for publication. Well, the writers who are breaking down the ever-dwindling publishing doors are not the ones who do what everyone else does. These are the people who have the brass, the audacity and the courage to let their story make its own rules. Or the ones who are publishing follow the rules so perfectly that you forget what they are.

So much for boxes. We will still look at them - it’s always good to know the rules before you break them.

3. Homework
Reading Review
Task: You were given three poems about difficult subject matter and an interview with a modern poet.

Goals: Gain a greater understanding of how language works and of the devices used by writers. Introduce to you to skills used by modern professional writers. Respond to and assess pieces of writing, Recognise poetic techniques. Enter into the mindset of successful modern authors.

Material Presented/Discussed:
A. Poetry (Terms and forms we discussed.) Find more on detail on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry All quoted references are from this source.
A. A stanza is “unit with the larger poem. A stanza can be a certain number of lines, have a particular rhyme scheme or as in much modern poetry, may be an arbitrary unit defined by publishing conventions such as white space or punctuation.”
B. A couplet is two lines which form a stanza.
C A triplet is three lines which form a stanza.
D. A quatrain is “four lines of poetry which form a stanza. Most common of all stanza forms in English.”
E. A haiku is a Japanese form which is made up of 17 syllables. The first line has 5 syllables. The second line has 7 syllables. The third (and last line) has 5 syllables. Although modern haiku in English have made significant changes to this form, it is commonly agreed that: a special seasonal word is used; addresses a simple subject and provides the reader with some profound epiphany.
F. There are many different forms of sonnets. It is “a poem of 14 lines which follows a very strict rhyme scheme.” In English writing of sonnets, the lines are written in iambic pentameter. The Shakespearean sonnet varies from the Italian sonnet both in structure of stanzas and rhyme scheme. It is the opinion of this writing instructor that, the Italian Sonnet has a much more exciting rhyme scheme, but less exciting structure.
G. An elegy “is a poem of mourning, from the Greek elegos, a reflection on the death of someone or on a sorrow generally. The English word "eulogy" is derived from it. In addition, an elegy (sometimes spelled elegĂ­e) may be a type of musical work, usually in a sad and somber attitude.(1) ”
H. Gigan - see weekly review 2
I. Villanelle - see weekly review 2

B. Poets do not have to write in form. It is not mandatory. However, at some point, many poets choose to write in form for a variety of reasons. It is an exciting and challenging “word game,” It hones skills. It demonstrates a certain level of mastery.

C. Form can serve many purposes.
1. According to the interview with Patricia Johnson, she chose the form of a villanelle “to place parameters and to force myself into a discipline. There would be no room to get carried away with rhetoric.(2) ”
2. Ruth Kocher used form to contain her grief because she has “never been able to really confront and accept her death(3) ” The use of her gigan form allowed her to make a poem which had multiple layers of meaning. For example: she was able to use the gigan to create a culturally relevant elegy in that she portrayed a dead jazz singer in the tradition of the New Orleans jazz funeral. The final couplet about the bird singing gave an additional revelation about music being eternal and unstoppable.
3. Form is just another tool that a creative writer can put in their “writer’s tool box.” If job calls for a hammer and you only have screwdrivers, then you can’t finish the job.
4. Form places external restraints on the writer. It gives the project clear and distinct boundaries. It can distract a writer and invite deeper insights. It can loosen preconceived ideas about the subject matter, thereby allowing the writer to go in new, previously unthought of directions.

Writing Review
Task: Choose an object which you use all of the time. the more common and bland the better. Examples, toilet tissue, diapers, toothbrush, sanitary napkins, tea bags.
A. Who made this item?
1. Are they married, single, divorced?
2. Are they young or old?
3. Do they have children?
4. What is their favourite colour?
5. What do they like to do after work?
6. Do they have any hobbies?
B. What are they feeling when they make this item?
C. Where are they?
D. What does it look and sound like there?
E. Do they ever think about you - the user?
F. What do they think about you?

Goals: Use the skills necessary to think and write creatively. Gain a greater understanding of the devices used by writers. Loosen the imagination. Recognise and practice fictional techniques. Respond to and assess pieces of of writing with sensitivity. Practice new writing skills.

Material Presented:
1. In a fictional story, the writer:
invents a character or characters;
places them in setting;
creates for the reader a “snapshot” of the character’s life;
develops the story to it’s climax (point of highest tension or drama); and
creates resolution.
2. Everything is your material. As we saw from many of the pieces, the main character evolved out of people or experience’s in the writer’s past or present.
3. Even the most mundane and ordinary thing has a story attached to it. Writers find stories in everything they touch..
3. A writer can take a personal experience and transform it into a work of fiction. Even if these “facts” are no longer recognisable, they help create a believable character.
4. If the writer is writing about an unfamiliar subject, sometimes, research is required. This helps give the story depth.
5. In order to create a believable character, we must include detail.


4. Things to think about:
A. Boring people do not always live boring lives. Seek the extraordinary in ordinary people.
B. Good writers strive to develop empathy. This allows them to create characters which are full and real rather than flat and two dimensional.
C. Finding forgiveness and the ability set aside judgement leads to interesting characters with whom a reader wants to spend time.
D. Celebrate human frailty. Use it as a tool for character development.
E. When creating characters, remember that readers read for many reasons including:
* to better understand the people in the world around them;
* to escape from their ordinary lives;
* to see things in new ways;
* to become someone else for a short time.

5. Homework
On a slip of paper, Complete the following phrase:

People would be surprised to know that I.......

Trade slips. Write about the surprising thing as if you are that person. You must use the first person and you must use dialogue.

-------Footnotes
1. All of the quotes above the footnote are from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry
2. “Witness, Testify, Recall: A Conversation With Patricia Johnson,” from Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry by Felicia Mitchell, University of Tennessee Press, 2002
3. http://aboutaword.blogspot.com/2005/06/gigan-for-queen-bee.html

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Second Class

at CityLit

Ways Into Creative Writing
30/09/2005 Review

COMPLETED IN CLASS

Discussion:
Weekly Review Sheets
The weekly review will provide you with:
a document of the class,
a road map of the adventure;
and a future reference guide (perhaps you may be blocked one day and go back and repeat the exercises on your own.)

Organisational Skills:
I encourage everyone to get a binder. In this binder or folder, I hope you will put all of the materials from this class, your exercises, your writings. I would like for each of you to have a detailed record of this journey. Last week, in another class, poet and novelist, Martina Evans said, “time is the best editor.” And I couldn’t have found a more succinct way of stating this truth. So, remember, “Time is the best editor.

Communication:
We reviewed and ratified (on a temporary basis) the Class Contract.

We have also set up an email list to which class members may send their work. This email list allows people to spend time with the work before coming to class. It helps offset copying expenses, by making each member of the class who needs or wants a physical copy responsible for their own participation.

Discipline:
A creative writer is a person actively engaged in the process of understanding and making sense out of our world and the people in it. We are constantly changing. Everyday, we have new insights and new understandings. We also are blessed with the occasional epiphany, or the “Aha!” for which we have been seeking.

I encourage everyone to get a journal and to begin writing everyday. Through daily writing - even stream of consciousness or free writing - you will open yourself to the discipline necessary involved with being a creative writer. Even if you write, “I do not feel like writing today.” You will have accomplished the act of writing. Most importantly, you will have turned a negative idea into a positive one. Even though you did not feel like writing, you wrote.



Exercise 1 -
Leaving Judgement At the Door
Task - This exercise is not for sharing. Be free to be honest with yourself.
1. Take a negative statement you think often about your writing.
2. Now, transform it into a positive statement or promise to yourself.

Examples:
“My writing just doesn’t seem to work.” becomes “The work I’m doing now will make me a better writer.”

“Nobody likes my writing.” becomes “The people who like my writing are waiting to find me.”

Goals: Use language creatively. Encourage yourself as a writer. Honour your potential and strengths. Think creatively and experiment with language. Experience the power of language.

Material Presented:
1. We must encourage ourselves to reach our goals.
2. We have the power to manipulate language to serve our own distinct purposes.
3. By removing emotional roadblocks to writing, we become better writers.

Exercise 2 -
Adrienne Kennedy / Homework / Reading Out
Task: You were given a small excerpt from Adrienne Kennedy’s autobiography, “People Who Lead To My Plays” In the style of Adrienne Kennedy, write about 3 people who will lead you to your voice.

Goals: Examine literature as a living and dynamic form. Gain greater understanding of how language works and of the devices used by writers. Loosen the individual’s voice. Use language creatively. Promote writing confidence. Increase your ability to take risks.

Material Presented:
1. Writers simultaneously observe and participate in life.
2. Everything is your material.
3. Through distance from our subject matter, we can become more aware of the nuances in a story and/or the meaning in everything.
4. Even the most trivial, childish or juvenile things can have a have a deeper more powerful meaning.
5. The way in which we structure a narrative can draw a reader in or push them away.

Thank you for your lush, evocative pieces! Well done!

Homework
Writing Exercise -
Choose an object which you use all of the time. The more common and bland the better. Examples, toilet tissue, diapers, toothbrush, sanitary napkins, tea bags.
A. Who made this item?
1. Are they married, single, divorced?
2. Are they young or old?
3. Do they have children?
4. What is their favourite colour?
5. What do they like to do after work?
6. Do they have any hobbies?
B. What are they feeling when they make this item?
C. Where are they?
D. What does it look and sound like there?
E. Do they ever think about you - the user?
F. What do they think about you?

Write what you know. Learn about what you don’t know. Practise empathy - it will lead you to the creation of more believable characters.

Reading -
1. Ruth Ellen Kocher, “Gigan For Queen Bee”
A gigan is a new poetic form invented by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Its 16 lines consist of:
1. couplet, triplet, couplet, couplet, triplet, couplet
2. line one repeats as line eleven
3. line six repeats as line 12
4. last couplet turns the subject askew
5. Find more at: http://aboutaword.blogspot.com
Notice: The way the poem is an elegy without being an elegy. Notice the way she turns an elegy into a celebration of life. If we hadn’t had the explanation, What do we know about Queen Bee? What did she look like? What did she do? How do you know this? Finally - in what way does she turn the subject askew?

2. “Witness, Testify, Recall: A Conversation With Patricia Johnson,” from Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry by Felicia Mitchell, University of Tennessee Press, 2002

You’ve been given two of the poems discussed in this interview. One of the poems is in the form of a villanelle. The other is free verse. What happened in both of these poems? How did the author use distance and foreshadowing to deal with extremely difficult personal subject matter? How did the author use distance and poetic form to control the horrific subject matter?

For your information and from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villanelle, a villanelle is:

“The standard villanelle consists of five stanzas of three lines each rhyming a-b-a and a sixth stanza of four lines rhyming a-b-a-a, giving a total of nineteen lines. The first line of the first stanza is reused as the third line of stanzas two, four, and six. The third line of the first stanza is reused as the third line of stanzas three and five and as the fourth line of the sixth stanza. The result can be illustrated by the following schematic representation:
Line one (A1)* Line two (b) Line three (A2)*

Line four (A2) Line five (b) Line one (A1)

Line six (A1) Line seven (b) Line three (A2)

Line eight (A2) Line nine (b) Line one (A1)

Line ten (A1) Line eleven (b) Line three (A2)

Line twelve (A2) Line thirteen (b) Line one (A1) Line three (A2)

This is otherwise known as entering poetic hell.

Final Thoughts:
1. Be engaged with your world.
2. Be a part of it.
3. Be curious about every single detail around you.
4. Observe others. Learn to listen to their stories.
5. Free your imagination to transform everything around you into something moving, poignant and significant.

Not Specifically Addressed:
Begin the writer’s ritual.
1. Get a notebook.
2. Writers who succeed are writers with discipline. Write in it everyday - discipline.
3. Try writing at different times of day. This way you will find the best time for you.
4. Make a place for yourself to write. If you write in the same place and it is always ready for you...it makes it easier to find the words. You build energy there and train your mind that this is the place where you make words.
5. Find a place to post your positive statement. (On your notebook. On the bathroom mirror. Anywhere you will see it regularly.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Our Class Contract

Below is the contract my two classes struggled to find by discussing their hopes and fears. I have two awesome groups of people with whom I am lucky enough to serve as a guide on their journey to their own voice.

Class Contract
We would like criticism to be constructive. We would like to think that we can support each other and help each other grow as writers.

For these reasons, we will all to agree that:

1. We will leave judgement at the door of this classroom. We recognise that everyone has a right to their opinion and should be free to express that opinion to the best of their ability. “If we silence one of us, then we have silenced ourselves.”

2. We will focus our comments on craft rather than content.

3. The work being presented to this group is a work-in-progress. If it’s a masterpiece, then it doesn’t belong here, it belongs in a submissions pile somewhere.

4. We will treat each other gently and with respect.

5. We will be honest with each other, but we will find ways of doing it which help, support and stimulate reflection.

6. We will be specific with our comments rather than general. We will try to use the following phrases to discuss each other’s work.

A. What worked for me is.....
the meter
the rhythm
this character interested me
the description of the setting
these phrases or word combinations.

B. The place where I became very engaged with this piece was...

C. Help me understand why you chose or why you need...
this word or phrase.
this paragraph here.
to break your line here rather than here.
this character to do or not do X, Y, Z
anything else you don’t understand.
D. I am unclear
about the setting of the piece,
about your character’s motivation for doing X
the intent of the poem
about what you are trying to communicate.
anything else which makes you ask questions.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Without Intent - We Still

Abandon Those We Love
thanks Deena and Imani

They don’t own me,
much as we’ve both paid,

the tally never balances.
Scales overflowing

heaped
high
grumbling

but always short of that
demarcation hatch proclaiming

even. In this time,
of sushi hearts

we still find
nothing more
to say than i love you

and I’m off. Postcard
perfect, snap

shots reducing
one billion emotions

like salt trying
to remain an individual
in the context of ocean.


NOTE: Friends have offered to help offset the expense of flying home to be with Imani. I've been trying to work this through - so much of me feels as if I can't accept this generous offer. Feeling as if I am some sort of charity case. I'm teaching. Norman is working. We should be just fabulous. But - tight. Tighter and tighter it seems to be. I'm always the one raising money for someone else. And when it comes to it - I have a knack for pulling money out of thin air. I've always excelled in this. So - I believe I resist this love energy being put forth on my behalf in order to maintain some convuluted idea of self.

Teaching creative writing again has invited me to review my source material. And once past fairy tales, science fiction, evil teachers, and my nasty nanny, I am left pondering...

“Who are these people who have lead to my poems? In response, I finger the biographies of my grandmother. “MAIDA SPRINGER: Pan-Africanist and International Labor Leader” by Yevette Richards, University Of Pittsburgh Press and “CONVERSATIONS WITH MAIDA SPRINGER:A Personal History of Labor, Race, and International Relations” also byYevette Richards from University of Pittsburgh Press.

But, looking for myself, I suddenly realise how we all donned gloves to handle our lives together. We were so busy containing ourselves to be perfect threads on “the loom of history” we forgot.

My brother and I are in neither of those books. We did not play the family drum well enough to be included. We exist for those who have long enough memories to include us. My career as an artist made it harder to write me out. But, they manage. She spoke about this once, tired, frail and tubes slipping in and out of her body. "Your Mother is such a private person. I have always tried my best to respect that." Her hand sstroking the book about her life she was about to hand to me.

Now, my daughter is across the Atlantic ocean. She is pulling her life together after having a stroke. And we are here. Stuck. Separated. Mired in our belief that the Universe had a plan for us.

Where is my family? Most carefully and conscientiously executing their retirement dreams now that my Grandmother has had the good taste to finally die. (This being my mother’s perception of the way Maida took forever before letting her be a true and unencumbered snowbird. You have to understand. My mother’s mother had the good form to go quickly and suddenly. She held her secrets in her blood until she exploded. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly.). Not Dad’s Mum, she stayed and made us laugh and attend book parties, change her diapers and showed us the dignity of the flawed and failing human body.

Inconvienece is a legacy also. Maida would rather dehydrate than get a nurse (who was on her hard won break) to bring her ice chips-----days before she died. On one side of the family, inconvienceing others can not be tolerated. And on the other side, as well.

So, I find myself stiffening my collar and saying, “No, thank you, we’ll work it out.” When I mean, “Mama? Mama? Are you there? Where are you? Help me, please? I know you are tired. I’ve needed so much, but, do you have it in you to hold me? It is so dark here!”

So - maybe - yes - we need help becoming more than this self-sacrificing legacy of women worthy of books written in our name.

Answer To An Offer For Help

So many grains of rice slipping off of the plate.
Trying to tidy up now. Feeling pretty slovenly.

Back a few weeks/months/years ago
friends offered to help me get home for Imani.

At the time, I was scrambling.
Imani out of school meant pounds flying
out of the never enough - into the greater need.

Well - I've landed not one but two teaching positions.
University Of East London and City Lit.

Since getting the jobs, Norman and I have been in a mad
scramble to try to make it work for Winston.

The past two weeks have flattened me. My only bit
of pavement unfolds beneath my feet when I realise
we will eventually have extra cash

to send home for Imani.
Winston suffers daily from the transition.

But, the minder is a good woman with kids,
so he can be mostly happy. The ends here

keep getting clipped by fate and circumstance.
Never enough, bankrupted from the summer of fun
turned nightmare stroke. And fallout.

Between frugality, waste and friendship there is
knowing. As unsettled and worse

longing echoes from the hills. Ravens keep
crossing my path. My hatred of them wills flight.