Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

One post a week? HAH.

September 29, 2013

Sooooo my goal of getting one post on here a week has fallen utterly flat. The pressures of the school year workload combined with plugging away at the novel MS.

For what it’s worth, said MS is at nearly 125k words, and I began work on it in June. That’s probably not enough writing, or at least I constantly feel as though it isn’t, but it seems like a respectable pace. Of course, I seem to be considering splitting this particular manuscript into two novels. This potential course of action is fraught with peril and strewn with traps and risks the ridicule, scorn, and seething hatred of my alpha readers. On the other hand, I wonder whether a trilogy can remain a trilogy if the third book is significantly longer than books one and two.

By significantly, I mean, oh, sixty thousand words or so longer. Because that’s the length this is headed to (250k or so).

That being said, I’m going to deal with this the way I deal with all problems in the manuscript.

I’m going to ignore it.

That’s right, ignore it. I’ve been following a simple mantra all along, and for the first time in my life it’s working and allowing me to actually finish a project. Four words.

Write now. Fix later.

I don’t pay attention to a single error until I’m done with the first draft. Not one, unless it’s a massive continuity-wrecking mistake, or I realize the day after I wrote something that it was really quite terrible. Now, believe me, this makes working on subsequent drafts a tremendous pain in the ass. I wind up wincing at some of the things I thought were clever or well written. I engage in massive rewrites and cut out chunks of text I thought were golden. But the key point here is that the first draft gets finished. I honestly believe that I’ve finally stumbled my way into the process that actually works for me. There’s no outlines or schemes or sketches or marginalia (that’s to be explored in a separate post). There’s just adding to the narrative every day (or nearly every day) and driving the story forward until it gets to where I want it to end. That’s it.

In the meantime, maybe I can try and maintain a pace of a couple of posts a month.

Teach me now to listen

August 30, 2013

To strike it rich behind the linear black.

– Seamus Heaney, Clearances

When I learned this morning that Seamus Heaney had passed away, just before the start of my first class of the day, I felt a kind of devastation. I say “a kind of” because as much as I love the man and his work and what it has done for my life of the mind, and for the world, it isn’t the same kind of devastation as losing a father, or a brother, or a best friend, all of which I have lost.

And yet it was a devastation nonetheless. Seamus Heaney was the first poet whose work I sought out on my own. He was the first poet I recognized as important not because a teacher told me so but because my own instinct screamed it at me. His work, and that of his fellow Northern Irish poet Michael Longley, had a profound effect on the decisions I made in college to major in English, concentrate in Irish Studies, get an M.A. in the same with the intent to get a Ph.D., then say “hang it all” and get an M.F.A. instead. One of the essays I wrote for my M.F.A. Comprehensive Exam spent quite a lot of time talking about Heaney’s contribution to the tradition of the sonnet in English.

While I have lamented some of my choices in academics here and there, there has never been a moment in my life that I have regretted picking up any of Heaney’s books and losing myself in the humbly glorious language.

There are an awful lot of things I could try to say about Heaney but I don’t want to delve into the kind of academic speak I have more or less left behind and I’m afraid I would. This morning I thought, briefly, about trying to read one of his poems aloud to my students, who, despite having received a stellar high school English education to date, had a 100% “never heard of him” rate. But then I realized if I did I would probably break down, at least a bit, before I got to the end of it. There’d be no coming back from that in front of students in the first week of their senior year. Instead I left them with the brief anecdote of hearing him read twice while in undergrad, and having a few minutes of interaction with him the second time, and how he took a moment to sign my copy of his selected poems while he had a jumbo shrimp dangling from his mouth. I don’t offer this anecdote to be glib or to denigrate him in any way; I think it was awfully decent of him to take the time to inscribe a book to some dumb undergrad who was chirping at him about poetry and how he wanted to be a poet. He would’ve had every right to tell me to go away, but if there’s anything you keep hearing about Heaney today, it’s how approachable, how humble he was. Let’s reiterate this moment; a Nobel Laureate had no free hand to hold a pen to sign some annoying undergrad’s book, so he freed up a hand just to sign it. How many Nobel Laureates would do that? Frankly I’m not sure how many Laureates I’d want to ask to do that, but that’s a separate issue.

In the end I will quote not one of his poems, because I don’t know how I could choose, but from his Nobel lecture. I keep returning to this lecture and to this paragraph in general, because it says a lot of what I believe about why I consciously choose to engage in certain traditions.

“Even if we have learned to be rightly and deeply fearful of elevating the cultural forms and conservatisms of any nation into normative and exclusivist systems, even if we have terrible proof that pride in an ethnic and religious heritage can quickly degrade into the fascistic, our vigilance on that score should not displace our love and trust in the good of the indigenous per se. On the contrary, a trust in the staying power and travel-worthiness of such good should encourage us to credit the possibility of a world where respect for the validity of every tradition will issue in the creation and maintenance of a salubrious political space.”


Part of writing, part of living any kind of examined life, is choosing your values. We have a tendency to be perhaps either too mutely accepting or too nihilistically dismissive of those values or beliefs that are in some way native to us, to what is handed to us or what we grow up with. Either is bad, but Heaney asks us to do the work of looking for that in our local, clannish, backwards existences which is good. Identifying that good, lifting it out, is the first step to carrying it forward and outward into the world. Heaney did that in his poetry for nearly fifty years. I’m hesitant to believe the rest of the world will ever follow his lead, but if we ever are, the poetry will be there, showing us how.

The Fight

August 15, 2013

There are days where the fight doesn’t seem worth it. Days I can only think about the vast amount of work that remains, the uphill struggle of selling it, of convincing someone else to believe in it enough to sell it for me.

I’m calling it “the Fight” because I think there are some valid figurative similarities between writing and boxing. Other writers have covered this better, but the basic point is this – whether you’re writing a novel or fighting, you’re in there by yourself.

Sure, other people will help get you there. Alpha readers, editors, friends, spouses who put up with you, or, managers, trainers, sparring partners. But in the end, you are alone, consciously stepping into something that’s designed to drain you and punish you.

Tonight I went to bed early (11:30 is early for a teacher during the summer, or early for THIS teacher during the summer) thinking I’d just skip a day. Take it easy. After all, I’ve written 430k words across three books (well, technically two and a third books) in just under two years. I deserve a day off.

I spent forty minutes lying in bed thinking about the book.

I eventually began to feel ill.

Now I’m back at the desk.

Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.*


*Name the quote. 

You’ll notice that a bunch of posts have vanished.

August 15, 2011

There’s a method in the madness.

Dearth of Posts

January 24, 2011

I make no silly New Year’s Resolutions, but some stuff is happening.

First and foremost, and since both of you who check this blog probably already saw this on Facebook, I have a couple of poems in the debut issue of Floorboard Review.

Beyond that, well I’m working like a dog but some time is making itself apparent, here and there, and I’m going to try and steal it for writing. So watch this space.

Dearth of posts

August 5, 2010

This blog is too quiet. I understand that.

The problem is that nothing I do lately seems to improve the blank page. Maybe this week I’ll post some older poems.

I’m also working on a post about love poetry. Is it even possible anymore? (How’s THAT for cynical and stupid questions?) What does it have to do, what can’t it do, etc. Also I’ve actually consciously been trying to write some (wait for it) erotic poetry. I’ve decided I don’t think that is actually possible, but it sure is fucking hilarious, let me tell you.

Small Work

June 15, 2010

I want a log roof, fire
on clean swept stone
A hole above
for the smoke and
small work for the hands
with bone or horn,
antler or leather
and warm honeyed wine.

Note: Just dribbling it out there to see what happens.

Borges Quote (This blog isn’t dead)

May 11, 2010

“There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition.” – Jorge Luis Borges.
I’ve just finished up teaching Borges for the year, and so much of what he is able to do…to write in a way that calls attention to words and to literature itself, to write in a way that is about the fact that he is writing, that anyone has written or will write or can write or should write…is what I want to be able to do. Of course, I am no Borges and I am not claiming to be.

Even so I think “useless and out of the way erudition” is a descriptor some of my best poems can answer to, or at least I want them to. I’ve also been thinking of this in terms of my utter inability to write a poem that is for or against anything. I admire what poets who engage the political are able to do…hell, I did Irish Studies and my MA thesis was on “Five Belfast Poets,” and you don’t get more political than a poet born in Belfast. This, of course, is somewhat unrelated to Borges, or departing from him, because much of his initial work was rooted in exploration of all things Argentinian, including politics.

Part of me wants to align with Joyce now as well and say that what I would do as an artist (want to do; I haven’t done anything yet) is utterly unconnected to politics. Politics can fuck off; art is above it. Part of me wonders  if that isn’t some kind of cowardice and says “I believe in things; if I am going to write I shouldn’t avoid those things.” And another part of me says that whatever those beliefs are (they are vague and ill-defined anyway) need not ever enter the poetry, that holding them outside of it keeps the poetry better or more pure, or myself more sane.

So at any rate; I think I will try to go with “useless and out of the way erudition.” And try to write some poems about it; this blog is not, despite appearances, dead. I have a number of poems in process and blog posts half finished; thoughts on Joe Hall’s excellent book “Pigafetta is My Wife,” for one, and thoughts on reading Hayden Carruth for the first time, thoughts on teaching poetry and such. The end of the semester/year has been an absolute  bitch of a thing, and will continue to be for another couple of weeks. Expect more regular activity in this space once it winds down and I’m not spending all available free  time grading papers.

The Randomized Exquisite Corpse

March 19, 2010

I know in at least one class in graduate school, we played a randomized version of “The Exquisite Corpse,” the famous collective poetry and/or image-making game invented by the Surrealists. I decided to recreate it this week, as I am currently teaching a creative writing unit to 12th graders (perhaps surprisingly, they are taking to it well).

The Rules

I divided them up into groups of 5, and assigned the line pattern of “Adjective Noun Verb Adjective Noun,” with articles or prepositions to be filled in only on a basis of strict necessity. Each member of the group was assigned one of the words by the rolling of a ten-sided die; 1-2 was first adjective, 3-4 first noun, and so forth. Each was to compile a list of 4 of each of the words. Then, we started making lines, once again using dice as a randomizer. The student who had rolled ‘first adjective’ rolled a 4-sided die; a roll of 1, take the first word from your list, 2, the second word, so on. This would result in 3 lines produced randomly, and a 4th line made up of the leftovers. The 4-sided dice were passed around the group until a line was made, then articles, or occasionally prepositions, were inserted. I tried to add that there should be no proper nouns, but a few slipped into the final product (I have chosen not to list any of those results that used proper nouns).

The Results

Posted with the permission of all students involved


The sleep-deprived portmanteau slurred a large apple.

The legless millstone smoked a colorful textbook.

The flexible miter box hallucinated a bushy watch.

The starstruck falchion sundered a powerful collar.


Pink sunlight whispers to a rubbery heart

Stuffy archways panic thick ships

Gorgeous blackbirds tenderized slippery dogs

In watery dungeons exists curvaceous fire


A sharp thicket subjugates the subtle rudder

While the hellish follicle defecates in the flamboyant staircase

The smoky peaks imbue the smooth river

And vivacious aglets smoke, unimpressed, a filament


The intimidating vodka coagulated many sorry bananas

As a fortuitous manicure trusted the dessicated hangar

The enigmatic swingset stabbed the virginal mother

And an isolated incubus deep-fried a torn apple

I particularly like the last lines of numbers 3 and 4, especially an incubus deep-frying an apple, because it carries with it a whiff of Prelapsarian Demonology (the latter of which is something that sneaks into my own poems here and there).

The Purpose

Why did I make my students do this? To many of my students, “poetry” means “feelings.” I try to teach them that yes, poetry may convey emotion but if we’re writing it, it’s probably a better idea to start with words. This game makes them work with nothing but words, and it helps move us along in thinking about poetry as word-play.