I was born in the middle of last century.

I don’t like that sentence, but it’s based on a true story.

I’ve been a writer for close to twenty years – but a reader for more than fifty. That’s another solid truth, as is: Reading is more important than writing.

But to be frank: it boils down to the same thing. What I’m actually up to when I’m writing a story is that I’m reading it. This borders on a truism; it’s my reader’s eyes that tell me whether it’s good or awkward, whether it’s taking a right bend or a wrong one, whether the characters smell of life or not – not my writer’s eyes, because they are turned inward toward that dark, infinitesimal abyss that is my mind.

Håkan Nesser
Portrait of the Artist as an Old Dog

I am twenty-four years old when a good friend of mine approaches me with a question similar to the one my mother asked me when I was eleven, all those years ago. But this time she says, “My mother is afraid because of the stories I write. She doesn’t want me to have to go to a dark, sad place in order to write sad, dark stories. What do I tell her?”

Our mothers are always afraid. They want what is best for us, and they know the reality of how horrifying the world can really be. They don’t want us to have to traverse imaginary horrors when the world is already full of real ones.

“Tell her,” I say, staring at the wall above my computer, “that the truth is, we don’t have to go to sad, dark places to write our stories. We write our stories to cope with what we’ve already seen.”

Alyssa Wong
The Darkest, Truest Mirrors

let you touch me

October 30, 2019

I will only let you touch me, if your hands are so full of intention, that every brush of your palms feels like you’re writing a novel on my skin.

Azra T

I inherited poetry on both sides of my family. My parents met at a lecture on Shakespeare by Auden. They both loved to read poetry and recited it aloud a lot, and of their five children, I was the one poetry stuck to. I was a quiet, introspective child who felt the magic of connecting to nature and the universe, and poetry enhanced that feeling. By age seven I was memorizing and performing poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, and I began to write my own poems shortly after. My mother was my first poetry teacher.

My earliest poems were chants about dreams and visions. After my seventh-grade English teacher told me that real poets write in free verse, I did so for about 15 years — but I still used rhythm as much as I could, because it was like a physical hunger. I’ve always wanted my poetry to create alternate reality, sacred space.

In my 20s I performed incantational free-verse ritual poetry in the performance poetry scene in New York and San Francisco. I earned a Ph.D at Stanford, where I developed two ideas, both of which I have written about at length, that helped me define my adult poetic voice. One, “the metrical code,” explained how meter creates meaning and inspired me to write in a whole range of meters. The other, “poetess poetics,” led me to write within women’s poetic traditions as an alternative to the male Romantic ego. Now that I had my tools and my tradition, I developed my spiritual path in witchcraft and women-centered spirituality and found my subject matter.

My poetry today uses a full range of meters and participates exuberantly in the tradition of women’s poetry while reaching out to contemporary listeners in the service of the matriarchal culture I feel is finally on its way — and just in time to save the earth.

Annie Finch
Interview with Frances Donovan
Gender Focus 27th March 2016

places offer footholds

October 9, 2019

Certain places are intrinsically tied to memory for me; they hold deep meaning and power. The ideas of “space” and “place,” both in terms of an actual physical location and the spaces our bodies occupy, are intermingled within the poems as a way to orient voice and the reader’s perception. These places offer footholds, in a sense. I find myself drawn to places of power on the earth: the ethereal, the mystical, the liminal. Places were myth was once born. The sea plays an important role in my writing, as well as the shrouded mystery of the mountains, such as the Ozarks. I’m hoping each place connects and crosses over each other in some way in these poems.

Tamara Jobe
Interview with H/M

not reading enough

October 8, 2019

I’ve been joking with the others in my workshop that I’m on the Reading Recovery programme this year. Ha ha. But when I had my first meeting with Damien, and tried presenting this as an amusing quirk — ‘Oh! and did I mention? I don’t read, really’ — he did look a bit alarmed. Writers are all so different, he said, but the one thing all writers must also be is readers. And I said, ‘Well, yes, OK, I’m not saying this is a good thing.’

I remember once, a few years ago, I asked my friend Amelia what she was planning to do that evening. She said, ‘I think I’ll go home and read my book’. ‘My book’. That phrase — the ‘my’ and then the ‘book’ — made me feel a pang of resentment. I don’t have a book. Even when I’m reading something, I don’t think of it as ‘my’ book, but rather, as ‘a’ book.

So I have been thinking about my relationship with books and clearly it is not an easy one. I feel guilty for not reading enough, and jealous of people who do read. I admit that yesterday when I saw a woman on the 23 bus with José Saramago’s Blindness cradled on her lap, I actually hated her.

Emma Kate Martin
Excerpts from a Reading Journal, 2009

writing novels

October 5, 2019

One luxury of writing novels is being free. You can stay in bed all day with the covers over your head. But it’s possible to become a victim of this freedom when it is suddenly withdrawn. Spending so much time alone every day, week in week out, I am liable to get far more anxious about face-to-face interaction where something is suddenly required of me and I’m to be put on the spot. I prefer communicating via email to the telephone for example, because there is less room for unpredictability, time to assess, re-read. The poet Selima Hill also describes feeling ‘exposed when the boundary of the page collapses, revealing faces on both sides … I feel trapped — as if I am a bad person. Ugly. Dirty. Inadequate. (Not at all the person I feel I am when I am writing, the person who is one with all things!)’

Olivia Sudjic
Danger, from Exposure

The point is that we live right now in a dot.com economy where any half-witted sap can learn how to day trade. Compared to 5 years ago, the number of small press publishers has significantly waned. The combination of decreased grant opportunities, rising urban real estate, and the general NASDAQ marketplace, has contributed to the necessity of many of poetry’s most impassioned perpetuators to find full-time jobs. Market anxiety is very pertinent to the larger consumerist climate that we all live under. It makes sense that the EP’s [ Experimental Poets] want to win contests, have books published by larger presses, and have their pedagogical exercises applied to the general curriculum. But rather than complaining about economic marginality while simultaneously wanting to benefit from it, let’s critically engage with the larger facts of our social environment. Let’s figure out, as Carol Mirakove recently said, how to work within structures that aren’t prize/award/money dependent, and invent them if they don’t exist.

Kristin Prevallet
Why Poetry Criticism Sucks

awakening voices

October 1, 2019

All true poetic genius tends to generate prophetic insight. The poet cannot help but listen to awakening voices that are not yet audible to the rest of men.

Thomas Merton
The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton

writing poetry

September 30, 2019

I started writing poetry as a child. Just a few lines at first (with some funny rhymes, or at least I thought they were funny back then). I never really stopped for very long, but kept writing as a teenager, and on into what people think of as the adult years. I’m now old! and still writing. In my twenties the question of when one could call oneself a poet seemed important, and kind of anxiety-producing. But later I realized that the point is that anyone who is writing poetry is, by definition, a poet. If you keep writing, you get better at it…

I think of poetry more as what they used to call a “vocation” rather than as a job. That is, something you really want to do, and hope to have a talent for, and time. And something you can learn a lot about from others who also write.

Roo Borson
Interview with Poetry in Voice