I was sipping espresso in my family's dank Airbnb in Florence, Italy, a few weeks ago, when the fabulous poet & professor Laura Mullen's interesting proposal flashed onto my cell phone screen--to join this chain of writers blogging about their writing process. When I was in college, Laura left an indelible impression of the poet's potential with her vitality, voice-in-writing, laminated fish-pin ties, & license plate OUTRE (no coincidence my cars have been Hondas), and her many books continue to wow. I am honored to speak after her in this Blog Tour on the Writing Process.
What are you working on?
It's early August 2014. As usual, I have multiple projects going on at once (by which I mean different genres, different audiences, different stages of completion, different topics). One strategy to maintain mindfulness is always keeping at hand dozens of projects in order to mirror the multiplicity of topic and style which can be found inside intrapersonal (or internal) dialog. When I look into myself for that flow of language, I find multi-colored floes of phrases and images, and if I wait a few minutes, something of interest will usually pass by.
So this mid-morning and afternoon, I hope to put the finishing touches on an advanced piece of longer creative nonfiction about the country store in central Maine, my parents' business throughout my childhood and adolescence. Earlier in the morning, I worked on poems for my new book manuscript, adding phrases and considerations to around five of them in my notebooks.
My fourth book of poems is at its midway point; recent travels have given me the mental nutrition to continue. I try to stay fallow between books (a trick I adopted from James Tate); Control Bird Alt Delete had just been published in March by the University of Iowa Press, but I couldn't help myself last winter-spring and started the Next One. By June, though, I sensed I was becoming anemic. After traveling, I am excited by the direction I see for the manuscript. Unlike other times in my writing career (I spend most summers on my screened-in porch working on scholarly articles, research, or book proposals), I am downplaying academic work in favor of creative. In the past two and a half years, I have published or am about to publish eight scholarly articles as well as one co-edited scholarly book (the forthcoming Creative Writing Pedagogies for the 21st Century, available June 2015). It's been a good run, but it's time to shift some of that energy onto poems and creative nonfiction.
How does your work differ from others' work in the same genre?
I'm not entirely at ease answering this question; it's like an exam question that points toward fog, at least in my mind. I don't tend to think in comparisons. I would say that my overall writing differs because I embrace a couple of genres and also the creative and scholarly camps. I might say that I am invested in the emphatic, in almost a naive artist's playfulness, in imagery and synesthesia, and in the grafting of beings through unexpected combinations, pathos. Like most poets, I enjoy the way in which the state of metaphor allows me to see things I normally wouldn't. In interactivity with the reader. Probably most of all in installing shadows behind words in order to make the words as objects visible to the reader.
Mindfulness plays a part in my poetry writing though not in topic. I don't use the Present moment as a subject matter--at least for now--but mindfulness shows up in my stance toward the act of writing the genre. Specifically, it means I celebrate the Vacancy of the Present Moment (no audience, no critic, no teacher, no family member in physical sight), that I find Joy in Change...so that I can enjoy the sensations provided by the Other Language that is poetry.
Why do you write what you do?
I follow my Pleasures when I write, phrase by phrase. Writing is truly (and this is also the case with scholarly writing) the main moment in my living in which I ask myself, "What would I enjoy doing now and now and now and now?" I usually can block out audience taxation; thus, I can't stop writing. My family will attest to this condition; I got up early to write every single day during our recent month in Italy for the sheer pleasure of it.
How does your writing process work?
This is of course a topic I've been tracking continuously in this mindful writing blog and also in a few other places. My process works moment-to-moment. It respects the contents of the Present Moment. It works hard on acceptance, on embracing intransience and groundlessness: writing feels like a state of grace. It walks straight into Possibility even if that means walking into an altogether razed and isolated situation. What might look like a blank page of block to another person is for me simply the openness between the swinging door of knowing and not knowing.
My writing process asks hard questions about aesthetics, structure, and purpose, but also allows for moments of perceiving the "found material" drifting around inside my inner dialog (so less will and ego). It follows the pulse of instincts on the phrase level, trusting what I hear from my intrapersonal dialog even in the editorial phases (when I bring audience and their expectations and criticism closer in my consideration). It uses the breath as its metronome.
Next Up. I'm tossing the ball to two outstanding women writers, Lynn Carthage and January Gill O'Neil.
Lynn Carthage is a novelist living in Sacramento, California, near where the Gold Rush launched. Under her real name, she was a Bram Stoker Award finalist. Born in Vermont, Lynn has lived in Maine, Ireland, and Arizona. She reads voraciously, loves anything French, gets “itchy feet” to travel on a regular basis, and finds peace in the woods, in meadows, in nature. She has always been fascinated by how history allows us to imagine how people of the past lived and breathed and felt. HAUNTED is her first young adult novel, and will be followed by the next two books in the Arnaud Legacy trilogy. Her blog is available at:
January Gill O'Neil is the author of Misery Islands (fall 2014) and Underlife (2009), both published by CavanKerry Press. She is the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival and an assistant professor of English at Salem State University. Here is a link to her blog Poet Mom: poetmom.blogspot.com.