Last week I was asked by admired writer, Deborah Clearman, to participate in a “blog tour” — a kind of chain letter through blogging — centered around the practice of writing. Deborah had posted her insightful contribution and tagged me to go on (and Avra Wing — who you can [and should] look for at http://wordsonthewing.wordpress.com). I should be daunted. I should be penitent. I should be hiding my head under my wing, in the presence of these women with strong voices and a real writing practice. My own? In spite of four chapbook volumes of poetry with Yvonne Garrett (who I have tagged below) and my [finally] published “memoir” about Mexico and the women I met when imprisoned in Oaxaca, in spite of writing regularly with the women of Larimer County Detention Center — I have let my practice of writing lapse… miserably. Perhaps it is the life change brought about by love [don't people write more fluidly and insightfully when buoyed by love?]. Perhaps it is the draw of the garden, which provides me an immediate metaphor for growth and change. Perhaps it is that “thing” that happens sometimes to many writers, as far as I can tell, when they just start doubting the muscle of their words.
So I accepted the challenge to answer these four questions, in the hopes of reconnecting with my own process, witnessed by the blog world, and thus held (perhaps) more accountable.
1) What are you working on?
By prior admission, readers will see that I should answer “nothing” here. But I believe that writers are always working, in one way or another. Last spring, I planted hundreds of seeds — not metaphorical seeds, but REAL seeds. With names like dolichos lablab, gomphrena, osteopermum, cuphea, centaurea — I am speaking a new language with them. Through our first summer here, we all wilted a bit and stretched a lot. And to me the real seeds ARE a metaphor. For some reason, I was NUTS about them. Keeping them alive and healthy and heading toward bloom. NUTS. Joseph can attest, that it is the first thing I do in the morning upon awakening… I step outside to see how everyone is doing. And I make several rounds during the day, lest they be overcome by heat. They are insurance to me, proof that it will explode. Life. Lust. Brilliance. Joy. It will explode, from the dormancy of a seed [from the dormancy of my words] — it will explode. The zinnias, the marigolds, the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes and oh, the frilled petunias — all held that promise in the spring. Now look at them!
But back to the writing, not to belabor the metaphor just because it gives me reason to hope.
I am “working” on thinking about translating my book into Spanish. There have been requests enough that I think it important to consider. And I am “working” on thinking about that novel. There have been questions enough around my next book that I know it is important to keep going. Keep going.
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I haven’t yet fully decided on my genre to be able to say how I differ. In poetry, I believe I am of the band of poets who strive to be approachable. Though you may not understand my poem completely, you will have an image to hold on to. An action. What I transform that image or action to may not be what you expected (I hope) or even what you want… and you may have a completely different interpretation of the poem’s meaning than the one I held when I strung the words on lines — and that is good. I do hope my poems are readable and warm… even the ones that talk about resistance or struggle. I hope there is enough human breath in there for you to say “yeah.”
And my prose is lyrical. That doesn’t make me different, it is just a trademark. I can even write about prison with a lyrical lilt. It is what I do. Not to paint pain and suffering in a lighter (dismissive) pen, but to bring out that other face, the one that flickers in candlelight and looks like a mask. Lyricism lives in an area that is not black and white. I am more comfortable in that area that is amorphous, bound by wavy lines, fluid, flexible and imaginative.
3) Why do you write what you do?
Long ago I did a guided imagery exercise which indicated to me that I wield my words like scissors, cutting a small hole through veils that may blur a reader’s more intimate perception of a reality different from his or her own. I have lived in some alternative spaces, witnessed some lives that not all get to see. I can’t bring you there with me, (nor can I go back), but I do have words that can allow you to peek through your own doubts. I spent some time in a jungle, where children saw helicopters and toucans in their skies, and found both fear and laughter in that blue expanse. I lived in a city, where a pigeon once fell like a broken heart from the top of the Broadway Bridge, landing still beating at my feet, the victim of a bridge-dwelling falcon. I have seen the faces of immigrants before and after, the eyes of caged women, heard the sweet singing voices of mothers whose children were slaughtered in a church, a sangre fría. I can help you see these things with my words. And we may both walk in a world a little less invisible, thought likely still not understood.
And I write because I like words. They are fun. They roll around like hard round seeds in my head and sometimes I am able to line them up and ping them off each other. Sounds good.
4) How does your writing process work?
I do not have one writing process. It depends on the wheres and whens. When I have gone away to write, I wake early to get morning light between my ears and well into the dark corners where the strange strong words hang out. I write and write for hours then, stopping only to drink water or walk to a blueberry bush or a chitter in the woods. I like that kind of retreat. I finished my book through retreats like that, near nature.
At home, I am distracted. At my new home I am WAY distracted. Maybe I will start writing tomorrow. After I move the geraniums to the back deck.
Because I do know… it can explode. At any time. That dormant pile of hard round seeds is going to wobble and ping and all hell will break loose again. The words will come. They will explode and I will write again to let you know… what the world is like out here. A world of heady mountains and the chirr of wickedly cute raccoon pups at night and the jolt of that blue butterfly atilt on the brightest orange cosmos.
Please be sure to peek in on two fellow writers (who really do write!) next Thursday or Friday — I pass the baton.
Yvonne Garrett was born in the glorious Pacific NW and is descended from mountain climbers and pirates. Currently pursuing a Ph.D., she holds an MA in Irish Studies (NYU-2014), an MLIS-Archiving (Palmer-2014), an MA in Humanities and Social Thought (NYU-2010) and an MFA in Fiction (The New School-2008). Her academic work focuses on Digital Humanities, Irish-American Labor activism, performance, and Irish and Native American literature. Her writing has been published in a wide array of literary journals and music magazines including The Baltimore Review, Raleigh Quarterly, The Brooklyn Rail, Alternative Press, and Thrash Metal. She is Senior Fiction Editor for Black Lawrence Press and a poetry reader for Barrow Street. She’s taught writing at Manhattanville College and the Brooklyn Vet Center. Her fourth poetry chapbook with Mary Ellen Sanger is out now. She lives in the East Village and hopes to one day return to the Pacific NW where the men are tall, the guitars are loud, the air is clean and the beer is good. You can read her musings at www.yvonnegarrett.wordpress.com.