07 November 2011


(Not the perfume.)

Obsession is crucial for a writer. Trust yours.

19 September 2011

It's Getting to Be That Time

I for one am totally looking forward to seeing what everyone has to share from and about a favorite book.

For me, Ulysses by James Joyce remains a big favorite. Though it's a book best read in a class or (at least) with others who can help you puzzle through the confusion--which was absolutely deliberate on Joyce's part--it inevitably becomes a fabulous book to return to. I recommend it heartily to students all the time.

The BBC has prepared a hilariously abbreviated version of the novel here, and the comments include lots of jibes from the haters, if that gives you any comfort.

Here, the first few paragraphs. (Note Joyce's stubborn refusal to abide by quotation punctuation.)

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of
lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown,
ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He
held the bowl aloft and intoned:

--_Introibo ad altare Dei_.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

--Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about
and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding land and the
awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent
towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat
and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned
his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking
gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light
untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

25 August 2011

Advice from Kerouac (What a Romantic)

I've stolen this from a site on the beats, thinking it would be good to have in the lineup for my upcoming advanced fiction workshop.

Belief & Technique
For Modern Prose
by Jack Kerouac
List of Essentials

Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
Submissive to everything, open, listening
Try never get drunk outside yr own house
Be in love with yr life
Something that you feel will find its own form
Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
Blow as deep as you want to blow
Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
The unspeakable visions of the individual
No time for poetry but exactly what is
Visionary tics shivering in the chest
In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
Like Proust be an old teahead of time
Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
Accept loss forever
Believe in the holy contour of life
Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
You're a Genius all the time
Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

26 July 2011

Also Against Revision

William Blake Comes Out Against Revision

(Sort of.)

First thought is best in Art, second in other matters.

Against Revision

As a teacher of creative writing (and what writing isn't?), I often tell students that writing is all about revision. I find a lot of evidence to back me up and I deliver it to them with gusto. However, I also have to admit that this is not actually true. Many writers, good ones, disagree with me vehemently on the topic of revision.

Allen Ginsberg, for one. I often recall his line "First thought, best thought." And his pal Kerouac had a "No revision" policy that was, he believed, influenced by Buddhism. Fine.

This evening I'm reading an interview with Nikki Giovanni in The Writer's Chronicle (Vol 43, No 5) and she also comes out "against" revision.

"I don't revise. I start all over again. And I say that to my students too. To say revise is to say, 'Oh my goodness, line fourteen needs some, you know.' So, you just start the poem all over again."

from "Mothers" by Nikki Giovanni

the last time i was home
to see my mother we kissed
exchanged pleasantries
and unpleasantries pulled a warm
comforting silence around
us and read separate books

28 March 2011

Blogging about Revision

I am asking my students to blog about revision, as if it were interesting or important. I wonder if they think it is. I admire people who believe, with Ginsburg, "First thought, best thought," but I've very rarely seen it in a student (though several have tried to adhere to it) and never in myself. For me, the first thought is the beginning. From there, the next thought, and the edit, and another thought, another edit, and so on.

It can be dangerous.

On the other hand (oh yes!) I believe the first concept is the crucial concept. If something is awry with the initial impetus, no edit or revision will turn that dreck to gold. Here, I go with T. E. Lawrence:

All the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft: for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the first conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!

And you? How do you see it?

23 March 2011

Revision Pointer from a Pro

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

--Anton Chekhov

07 March 2011

The amazing human and poet Frank O'Hara

Thanks to Selina for posting one O'Hara poem, which reminded me of this one which I love sharing with friends:

Autobiographia Literaria

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

from the Armory Art Fair 2011

28 February 2011

A Deep Mystery: How to Be Helpful when Workshopping Fiction?

It's hard to know what is helpful when reading each other's fiction, both as a teacher and as a student. For workshops, however, I try to stick to a system much as we did with poetry that will help the writer hear what others are reading in her or his text. In general, we talk a lot about strengthening the conflict, though that is a very old-fashioned way to think about fiction. We talk too in phrases like "What is at stake?" This translates loosely to, Why should I bother following these people across the pages? What difference do these events and scenes really make to their lives. This too is only somewhat helpful. Yet with these imperfect means we must begin.

1. Situation: What is happening in this story? What is the POV--the point from which we know anything? Remember: there are an infinite number of ways to tell a story. Why is it being told this way?

2. Characters: Is the hero/antihero believable? Are the people around her or him believable? Do we know what these people want?

3. Conflict: What is the problem here? (This is often, but not always, the 'reason' for the story.) Is this problem big enough to hold my interest? Does it arise soon enough in the narrative? (Closely linked to: What [or where] is the emotional center of this piece?)

4. Setting: Where am I? Is this place real? What metaphors does the setting provide?

5. Resolution: Does the whole hold together? Does the ending belong in the version of reality that has been created by the story?

All up for discussion.

26 January 2011

Class Today!

Looking forward to seeing my students at 12:30. We will end at 1:25, so that I can catch the 1:38 bus. Here is a famous Wallace Stevens poem about winter in case you were feeling too chipper.

The Snow Man

                                         by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.