The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back in Iowa (What Are We Writing, Again?)

leave a comment »

The question continues to dog me.  What the hell are some of my classmates writing, and why are they writing it?  I can’t be the only one of the ten of us to be asking this.  We continue to  face poems in which there is no place to “put your feet down,” as was mentioned in our second week of work shopping.

One remedy to this, rather than tell those poets to write something more readily understandable, was to refer us to an article about approaching poems that seem almost impenetrable.  I read the article, and am going to go back to it and take more notes, and it helped quite a it.  Something I needed to understand is why someone would write a poem that needs to be “solved.”  The person who wrote the article suggested looking for a “persona” and a “world,” instead of an argument or a plot.  Right there are two major ways in which my poems differ from some of these “new” ones.  That’s actually what the author called it:  New Poetry.  Actually, Very New Poetry.  Like it needs time to prove itself and see if anybody takes the bait and declares it is “worthy.”  I’m not sold.

The author, Stephen Burt, also nailed the issue I’m struggling with:  some of these poems tease or demand or frustrate; they’re hard or impossible to paraphrase; and they try not to tell stories.  Bingo!  So why the hell would someone write a poem like that?  What’s the point in communicating if those are the precepts?  Seems that some of this is a reaction to the conservative and staid academia who preached what quality verse was until students and others were tired of it being forced on them and reacted.  So, it’s backlash against the establishment and it’s been dropped in my lap for me to deal with.  Thanks, white dudes with the elbow patches on your blazers.

I’m not sure how much of the “new” poetry I’ve dealt with is reactionary.  I keep getting the feeling that some of it was scrabbled together the night before workshop, and some of it is a turd sprayed not with perfume but with something else distracting and not necessarily sweet.  I also tried to handle a poem recently in which I had to break the code in order to even read it correctly–that was made apparent when the poet read it in workshop.  The poet had the “key” and read it as it should have been read.  I reverted to my old habit, and once I got lost in it, I put it aside.  Ain’t got time for it.

This hasn’t all been frustrations, though.  Handling some of this “new” poetry has expanded my schema, and I’ve even worked in some vague ways that are new to me as I’ve composed my own poems.  I’ve also become much better at handling the stuff.  So despite my protestations, I’ve learned!  I’m going to cling to my philosophy of dumping stuff that doesn’t engage me, or that I can’t put my feet down in.  It’s just that now there won’t be so much of that stuff.


Written by seeker70

July 16, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Iowa (Scenes of Crimes Past)

leave a comment »

This is Mayflower Hall:

photo (3)

This is what it looks like when you take pictures from your bike.

It’s under construction right now, but you can see that it’s a typical utilitarian dormitory.  Not much flash or substance, but certainly functional.

Function:  Suite-style dormitory rooms for graduate students at the University of Iowa; until at least 2004, it also housed adults attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.  This is where I stayed when I attended the festival in 2004.

Set-up:  You have your own room adjoined with another room by a kitchenette and a bathroom.  Mine was on the 4th floor; room 403b.

Substance policy:  None allowed.  No alcohol, no tobacco, no other substances.

The situation:  I had been in Iowa City for two days and was eager to make some new friends.  My weekend class was over, and I was riding the CamBus back to Mayflower along with 30 other festival attendees, all of whom were waiting for their week-long workshop to begin.  I spotted my suite mate Ashley, and we decided to invite a few people over for some drinks and conversation.  By “a few people,” we meant the entire bus.

We didn’t realize that the entire bus would actually show up.  Plus more.  The only “rule” was to bring your own beverage, though Ashley and I knew we’d kindly sling whatever drink we could for anybody who asked.  By ten o’clock, music was streaming through my laptop, cocktails were being mixed with abandon, and the social aspect of campus life was in full swing with a few dozen strangers brought together through their interest in writing.  A few people were smoking cigarettes in the kitchenette and politely blowing the smoke out the windows, a few people were dancing to Stevie Wonder’s “Misstra Know-it-All,” and eight or ten people were milling around outside the 403 suite, mindless to the chaos inside.  There was absolutely no hiding of what was going on—the noise, the fun, the loads of cans and bottle scattered throughout the room—and nobody really felt the need to hide it.  U of I can’t be serious when they place such a far-reaching ban on adults, can they?

Nobody thought to close the doors to Ashley’s room or mine, so it became de regueur to keep things wide open to everybody.  A guy named Jim from Ocean City, New Jersey, brought down an acoustic guitar, and before long there was a jam session happening in my sleeping area.  I mixed my fourth cocktail of the evening and rejoined a group I was socializing with in the hallway.  Amongst them was Marilyn, a psychologist taking the same personal essay class I was taking, along with a substance abuse counselor named Steve who was taking the same fiction writing class as Ashley.  Inside my room was a woman named Brooke who had adopted a stray kitten she found on campus and was nursing it in her room, and another guy named Mike who was a college professor in Florida and a Vietnam veteran.  They mingled with a few women enamored of Guitar Jim who had decided to show up, along with a bookish woman from Boston.  Another woman named Cecelia, from Utah, sat on my bed and conducted a deep conversation about which I knew nothing.  She, too, was in the same workshop as I.

Somehow, this eclectic group kept the party going until 2AM.  Nobody called the residence hall staff to report anything, and nobody in the neighboring rooms complained.  For all we knew, the neighbors were in attendance.

It was a great start to the week-long writing festival workshops, but it wasn’t destined to be merely a start.  The same episode replayed itself the next two nights.  Each night between 2 and 3 AM, Ashley and I dumped watery drinks down the drain, extinguished old cigarette butts, and threw our windows open wide to release all the party smells.  I told Ashley after Monday night that I thought we had more people than we had the first night.  He told me Wednesday morning at 2AM that at one point he had counted 35 people in our two rooms.  Perhaps oddest of all was the fact that Ashley and I both retired to our respective rooms each morning and managed to write from 3-5AM.  I write about this now, still with no indication of how I managed to do that other than the process was still braided into my DNA from undergrad.  We were up at ten or eleven, and on to class in time each day.  What’s more, I was really liking what I was writing.  I hadn’t come out to IC with anything to workshop, so I was kind of putting the screws to myself to produce something.

Ashley and I stumbled to class Wednesday afternoon through the thick July heat of Iowa City.  We reached the top of the hill on Dubuque Street and heard a man call out to us from across the street.  We looked to him as he waved and shouted, “Great party last night!”  Ash and I looked at each other with no clue who the guy was.  I confided to Ashley that at one time I had been president of my residence hall at Ball State University, and it was a good feeling to know that I hadn’t lost much of my touch over the previous twelve years in regard to socializing on a college campus.

Our alcohol supply was almost dried up by that evening.  We decided to make a run.  Before we left, I fashioned a sign for my door that included a list of all the guests expected to be present at that night’s party:  Jose Cuervo, Ron Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Jack Daniels…  the stereotypical banal list that every 18-year old thinks is clever when they discover college.  We got a good chuckle out of the corniness of it and headed out in my car with a list from the frequent flyers from the suite 403 nightlife.

We returned to the Mayflower parking lot an hour later.  A black and white police cruiser was parked outside the dorm; its blue lights were flashing off the building’s brick facade and first floor windows.  I quipped to Ashley:  “¡Un policia!”  As a measure of respect, we rolled down the tops of our bags before we stepped inside.

We walked to the elevator and pushed the button.  After a minute, the elevator opened.  Ashley and I were standing eye-to-eye with an Iowa City police officer and the man who I recognized as director of Mayflower Hall.  They were locked in a conversation, and thus were turned to each other.  The only bit of their talk I heard was from the police officer:  “The guy’s name is Jeff Burd, right?”

The director nodded his head.  “Yep.  He’s in 403b.”

“Okay,” the officer said.  “Call us if there is a problem.”

Next to me, in the corner of my vision, I saw Ashley’s eyes pop wide open.  We were within three feet of the cops and carrying armloads of incrimination.

The director and officer turned to face us.  I offered my politest “Good evening, gentlemen,” all the while trying to restrain my bladder.  They responded in kind and stepped out of the elevator.  Ashley and I stepped in, and the doors closed.  The stream of cuss words that flowed from both Ashley’s and my mouth would have made David Mamet proud.  We thought for sure we were busted.  Regardless of how freaked out we were, it paled in comparison to what we saw when the elevator doors opened.

Steve the substance abuse counselor was practically running up and down the hall.  His face was red, and his eyes were crazy.  He saw us and ran directly up while he launched into a monologue.  “Jeff!  Ashley!  The cops were here!  And they’re pissed!  Some dude was with them…  they were asking me if I knew you.  I was like, ‘No,’ and they took your sign down…”

They had taken the sign down and replaced it with a list of residence hall rules.  It was the same list tucked into a folder of information I had somewhere on my desk.  The particular rules we were suspected of violating were highlighted in yellow.  There was a lot of yellow on the paper.  Ashley looked at me and said, “That’s it.  We’re done.”

We retreated to Steve’s room on the third floor.  Somebody said that it was the 4th floor residence supervisor who had dropped the dime on us; the same person whose suite was three doors down but who nobody ever saw and who was obviously doing a poor job given the nightly bacchanalia that unfolded practically in her lap.  Somebody had seen her milling around 403 and then walking to the elevator with my sign in her hands.

Everybody pretty much agreed that we had to go the director’s office and set things right.  Nobody wanted to get in trouble, or at least nobody wanted to get booted from the dorm and shack up at a hotel.  I volunteered to sacrifice myself since they knew my name directly.  I told everybody to sit tight, that I’d be back.  I went back to 403b for a minute before heading downstairs, and again saw the yellow highlights on the list of rules.  Where was my sign?  Sure it was immature and juvenile and flaunted authority and was generally unnecessary, but it was MY sign!  Besides, the cop and the residence hall director were within three feet of me, closer even, and didn’t know who I was.  They looked right at me and spoke to me—and didn’t know who I was.

I returned to Steve’s room and announced my decision.  “They don’t know who I am.  If they want me, they can come and get me.  Until then, we can relocate.”  We did relocate that evening to Steve’s room, but couldn’t draw the crowd or stoke up the same amount of fun.  It was getting late in the week anyhow, and maybe some people realized that full-on partying is more of a young person’s game.  We chilled out and nobody got arrested.

The day after the ICPD visited Mayflower, Cecelia approached me in workshop with a sympathetic look on her face.  “I heard you and Ashley got arrested last night.”  I laughed.  The rumor persisted, though.  We were now the rogues, despite the wild exaggeration behind the label.  Friday afternoon rolled around, and everybody had to leave.  I fashioned another sign, this one twice as ridiculous as the first, and taped it to the 4th floor residence supervisor’s door along with the list of rules highlighted in yellow.  I took the elevator down to the entrance, secured a few last items in my car, and drove back to Chicago with a grin so huge that it was falling off the sides of my face.

Written by seeker70

July 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Iowa (What Are We Writing?)

with one comment

Poetry.  Duh.  But if only it were that simple.  The permutations of the mode are incalculable, which is one thing that makes it so damn hard.  And which is why your English teachers made you wander lonely as a cloud.  And which is why so many people stay away from it.

But I don’t want people to stay away from poetry—especially when it’s mine!  I want people to come into poetry, to be able to feel their way around inside it, enjoy their short visit, and to emerge from it with something new and worthwhile.  Seems I’m in the minority at times in the workshop.

I said before that I ignore poems that don’t invite me in.  As our keenly skilled workshop leader asked:  Where can you put your feet down inside the poem?  If I can’t put my feet down inside the poem, if I can’t feel grounded and have something to stand on while I explore the poem, I really don’t want to deal with it.  But here in a workshop, my strong bias about how poetry should be written really isn’t fair to my fellow poets because I’m tempted to shelve their poems sometimes and see what others come up with during discussion.  I’d be insulted if they didn’t put an appropriate effort into my poem, and I’ve kicked myself for not researching some empowerment advertising and woodland Impressionist painting, both of which came up in the same poem, so I’ve realized I need to work harder on how I deal with my bias when others are depending upon me.  I’ve had to suppress my feelings about lines if not entire poems I couldn’t make sense of, suppress thoughts that the poet is trying to be elevated, avant garde, or New Yorker-istic–all to what end?  What’s the point if the poem is pushing me away rather than inviting me in?

As so often is true when I’m dealing with poetry…  the problem is me.  At least partly.  This doesn’t account for those who are writing over their heads with no clear understanding of why other than it’s en vogue to write a certain way and they saw it somewhere.  And that is happening.  The exalted workshop leader says to start with the discrete elements of the poem, those building blocks that we all know and that most every poem contains.  Things like sound devices, structure, allusions, metaphors–that which we already can feel and know and can work with.  This is sound advice (no pun intended).  In fact, it’s a fundamental of pedagogy to start with that which is concrete and move to that which is abstract.  So put your feet down on some solid stuff and move into less solid stuff later on.  There’s no need to feel mastery of a poem from the moment of diving in.  That’s an enormous thing with which to task oneself, and—my god the ego of someone to expect that of himself!  So I’ve been starting with those discreet elements, and damned if I haven’t been able to “crack the code,” at least partially, on some of the more whack stuff my fellow poets have been writing.  It doesn’t make some of that stuff any less whack, but it does make me a more skilled reader and editor of poetry, and (you guessed it) makes me a better poet.

Like it or not, I have to make the move toward some of the more “abstract” poems that I am currently descrying.  That will signify a move towards more sophisticated poetry on my part.  But damn it, I’m moving at my pace and I’m still clinging to my belief of inviting the reader into the poem.  Maybe that makes me a populist poet, or a socialist poet, but so what?  Every John Stockton layup counted the same as every Michael Jordan high-flying slam dunk (and Stockton wasn’t a cheater!).  None of that means my poetry can’t have artistry and sophistication.  It can have all that so long as it’s wrapped in my voice and is coming at my pace.

I keep coming back to this idea of inviting readers into the poem.  I preach this to my students.  This all comes from the best advice I ever got about writing poetry.  It was in an interview with Jack Ridl in the 15th Anniversary edition of Sport Literate:

Students very often, because they are taught that poems should be difficult, try to have their reader figure out the poem.  So students think that poems should be hard.  But students seldom get to experience those complicated poems.  They figure them out and then they move on to the next difficult poem.  But they never really read them.  I don’t want to figure out that a poem is about a dog.  Just tell me.  Now I’m in that experience with you.  All kinds of things can open up because you’ve given me the bottom line.  I’m not telling someone to write a dense poem.  It’s that Donne didn’t write a poem thinking, “This will be hard to figure out.”

Written by seeker70

July 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Iowa (with American Outlaws)

leave a comment »

If you can get away from whatever grind is keeping you down late Thursday morning and join American Outlaws at Donnelly’s Pub in Iowa City, here’s what you can expect.

First, don’t worry about finding the exact location (even though it’s listed as 110 E. College St.).  Get within a block, and you’ll hear it.  Most likely, you’ll hear chants of “I Believe That We Will Win!” and an adaptation of Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him” that riffs on the chorus:  “We support the U.S., the U.S., the U.S. / and that’s the way we love it, we love it, we love it.”

When the crowd isn’t warming up with the chants, you’ll hear a catalog of America-themed songs blasting over the speakers.  They’d be cliched and corny if they weren’t so aptly patriotic at this time and in this place:  R.O.C.K. in the USA, Born in the USA, American Girl, and ironically, David Bowie’s Young Americans.  Bowie is British, but don’t harsh anybody’s nationalistic buzz by pointing that out.

No worries if you’re deaf and blind.  You’ll still know you’re in the right place when you feel your feet sliding on the tile floor from layers of condensation and spillings of beer and Jameson and who knows what else.  You can actually stand at one end of the bar and start watching the game, and by stoppage time you’ll have slid to the other end of the bar.  A thick stench of deodorant seeping from three hundred armpits hangs in the humid air.  That may be the most unique feature of Donnelly’s during World Cup–their ability to somehow match the conditions on the pitch to an exact degree.  It’ll be somewhere in the 80s with 80-90% humidity.  You’ll wash your USA wear before you return for the next game.

And speaking of USA wear, the joint and every joy-seeker therein are decked in red, white, and blue.  Clint Dempsey #8 jerseys saturate the crowd.  Painted flags and stars blotch most every face, and everybody has a bandanna around their neck, across their forehead, or over their face in outlaw fashion.

The chants will never stop.  Someone will call out, “When the Yanks Come Marching In,” and “USA Ain’t Nuthin’ to Fuck With” and “USA-USA-USA” will come into steady rotation.  Tim Howard will make a critical stop (aren’t they all critical at this point?), and one of the Outlaws will start up the chant Everton fans started in the English Premier League:

We have Tim Howard
and he says “Fuck You!”

At some point, if #8 is banking a shot off the upright or stomaching one into the net, some guy will stand on his stool and scream, “Clint Dempsey fucked my mom!”

If a goal drought continues for too long and the crowd is getting itchy, the Outlaws will launch into a Yankee Doodle-inspired ditty:

Come on U.S. score a goal
It’s really very simple
Put the ball into the next
and we’ll go fucking mental!

And “mental” we will go.  Four times now, it has been bedlam that you’ll feel in your heart like a kick drum at a rock concert.  You might feel a degree of Patriotism uncommon in such an ethnically diverse nation, and you’ll definitely understand how it feels to be One Nation, One Team.


Written by seeker70

June 25, 2014 at 10:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Iowa (Good Luck Finding Time to Work)

leave a comment »

So you went back to University of Iowa and took a poetry workshop.  Good for you.  It’s a great time to work on your writing, no?  And not just the poetry.  Because you have tons of other stuff to work on, don’t you?  You brought it with you.  And since the workshop only meets on Mondays, you’ll have plenty of time to get stuff done, right?  You’ve got seven weeks, right?


Wrong.  Here’s why:

1.  You’re sitting on the front porch Saturday afternoon actually doing some work when from somewhere behind the house you hear bluegrass music.  You go investigate and find out George’s Buffet is having it’s 75th anniversary.  The place is an institution in Iowa City.  And it’s not just the bluegrass band…  there’s two blues bands that follow.  Kiss the rest of the afternoon goodbye, and the evening.  But the music was good.

2.  Yoga.  Got stay limber to work off physical stresses, focus your mind, and rehab that Achilles injury, don’t you?  Of course you do.  There goes a few hours each week.

3.  World Cup is on, and damn if it isn’t great.  Even when the USA isn’t playing, there’s always something good to watch.  And when the USA is playing, fuggedaboutit!  American Outlaws are in Iowa City, and they have pub space reserved.  There goes a few more hours from game time alone.  But you didn’t just watch the games, did you?  You had to take advantage of the drink specials.  Goodbye to the few hours subsequent to the games when you feel too sleepy to do much.

4.  The Eleventh Hour.  Damned if those daily lectures haven’t been interesting each day.  Always something new to think about, discuss, or learn.  Goodbye five hours per week.

5.  Regular exercise.  The bike.  A run.  Weights.  The Elliptical.  Gym fees are part of your tuition.  Might as well get your money’s worth.

6.  Hungry?  Go shopping and fix your own meals.  Ain’t no dining service here.  Oh, and you thought it would be fun to bring your grill so you can cookout in the back yard.  There’s a few more hours gone per week.

7.  You had never heard of The Machine Stops.  But now you’ve read the novella (one hour) and decided it would be a good idea to go see the preview of Act 1 of the opera based upon said piece.  When is the next time you’re going to see an opera based on a highly influential science fiction story from a very unexpected source, much less the rough draft of one, for free, merely a five minute walk from your house?  That’s right.   Don’t miss that, even if it is an hour out of your night.

8.  It’s a college town, so somebody has to have established an alternative cinema.  They damn well did, and they have a grindhouse feature on Wednesday nights.  You’d never heard of Blood Feast, but now you’ve seen it.  Damn right you saw the ridiculous piece of crap, and you loved 135 minutes of the experience (walking over there, previews, walking home…).

9.  Beethoven is cool.  Tolstoy is cool.  When they operate in tandem with The Kreutzer Sonata and the free preview interests you enough, you walk down the street and see the full interaction of the two pieces at the Englert Theatre.  For free.  There goes a few more hours.

10.  Writing from your workshop cohorts.  They, too, have writing that needs to be reviewed.  You wouldn’t dare be that snobby or irresponsible workshop member who doesn’t put any effort into anybody else’s work, so you’re making every effort to work on their poems.  Even if some of them are well nigh inaccessible or far too early in the drafting process to be workshopped.  Kiss those hours goodbye.

11.  You can almost see Prairie Lights bookstore from your front window.  They have an acclaimed reading series.  You haven’t been to any of them yet, but you already know which ones you will attend.  Goodbye, future hours.

12.  That laundry isn’t going to do itself.  So you tool over to Laundromania and feed quarters into the washers and dryers.  Not time wasted, per se, but you could have done without the Romania dude yakking too loud into his bluetooth for well over an hour.  It would have been more distracting if you could have understood him, but at least you got deeper into A Prayer for Owen Meany, which has taken up several more hours this week.

photo (1)

Get it?

13.  Go ahead and go to brunch with your workshop cohorts.  Not only will it be good to get out of the house for a bite, but you should be making some effort to get to know those folks.  Goodbye 2 hours Sunday morning.

14.  You have a poem due Monday morning each week.  You’re not going to recycle old stuff and throw it in, are you?  Probably not.  So you’ll need to work on drafting a new poem each week.  That is never a short process.  If it is, you should probably reconsider writing poetry or much of anything.

To be continued (time permitting)…

Written by seeker70

June 23, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Iowa (Old Habits, Bad Habits)

with 2 comments

The workshop met yesterday for the first time.  I won’t see my new writer friends until next Monday, and by my new writer friends I’m talking about the local PhD student with blue dreadlocks and armloads of tattoos, the physicist from New Zealand, the handful of local writers, the comedy writer from LA, the criminologist from Canada (the Canadian Criminologist!), and of course the workshop leader, who ain’t no slouch.  Some of us want to change gears in our academic disciplines, some of us want to get back into writing and found this to be a no-pressure but demanding avenue, and I want to continue to be the best writer I can be.  So that answers my question from Sunday night about who the hell takes these particular courses.  I guess as far as all of Iowa is concerned (and not just Dyersville):  If you build it, they will come.

Even though I won’t see my new writer friends for another week, my most pressing concern is how am I going to find any time to get work done between now and then?  More on that later.

I’ve realized ever since I got my acceptance letter to the workshop that this was going to be a big sea change for me.  Thus far, that has manifested itself in interesting ways.  First, I’m using a new type of journal.  I’ve made no bones about my quirky journal habits in the past, nor has a writer friend of mine, so when I jump out of my groove it has to be for a good reason.  See, in 2004 when I was first at Iowa for the Summer Writing Festival, I thought it was cool as hell that one of my classmates used a honkin’ huge hardbound journal–8.5″ x 11″ and about 2″ thick.  Said she used them all the time, and they could be picked up on the cheap at Borders.  So I bought one.  I busted it out in spring of 2005 as I was starting at Northwestern and made an inscription on the inside cover:  If I can fill this journal, I can be a writer.

But damned if I can’t fill the thing.  I’ve written a metric ton in it, and have pretty much relegated it to my poetry journal since the pages are so big and I can write entire poems on a page and annotate and edit without running out of space.  But the problem is that I’ve written so damn much in it that I’ve reached the last third of the journal and it’s too hard to keep open when I’m writing.  I have to exert physical effort when I’m writing to keep it open; plus, I’m losing space on the pages since I can’t reach the inner expanses of each page.  So what to do?  The size is still perfect.  The hard binding means it can absorb a good deal of daily wear and tear.  My students’ jaws drop when I whip it out.  This is like trying to replace an old flame.  There’s comfort and familiarity there.  But if I’ve learned anything, it is that sometimes you have to clear the decks and start anew.  And I did.  Last week, I bought a new journal with the same page sizes, but only about half the thickness.  It’s working pretty well thus far.  Plus, and I can’t stress this enough, it is spiral bound and will stay open on it’s own.  I preach this consistently to my students.  Buy something that will stay open by itself.  It will make it a lot easier to write in and transcribe from.  Don’t waste money on a flashy, expensive journal.  Practicality overrides prettiness.

photo (1)

This ain’t one of those new-fangle pre-written journals… I had to put that writing in there myself!

And don’t get me started on pens.  This is a huge change, too.  For years I’ve used the Pilot V7 fine point pens in all kinds of colors.  But I get pissed when the tips bend.  And my students have been telling me for years that my handwriting is too hard to read.  I blame their laziness with cursive and my pens.  I can only change one of those.  So I bought a multi-color pack of Pilot G-2 07s.  Damned if they’ve made my handwriting any better.  Still, new pens and a new style of journal both go a long way towards getting me out of my regular habits as I broach new territory.  But change is good, right?  Allow yourself to evolve to meet and adapt your circumstances.  It’s good to tweak your orbit a little bit.  I never used to use pencils in the editing process, but was so self-conscious about my sloppy handwriting when I was digging through piles of manuscripts at The Skids in ’11 that I started using pencils.  Now they are indispensable to me when I edit.  And my students are thankful that they don’t have to decipher my notes.


Elegant and professional, the Pilot Precise v7 are the Vanna White of pens.



Blue-collar pens that will get the job done, the Pilot G-2 07 are the Budweiser of pens.

That brings me to my next habit, which I now realize is something that has been working against me.  See, I have a simple philosophy with poems that I employ everyday, which is the frequency with which I read The Writer’s Almanac.  It goes like this:  I read the first three or four lines of a poem, and if it doesn’t interest me, I delete it.  No harm, no foul, right?  Except this has become my default setting now with handling poems.  I even tell my students to do the same thing.  Why read poems that you don’t like or aren’t interested in?  Shitcan them!  And what’s more, don’t write poems that you don’t like!  Sounds good, and it serves me well.  Well, it served me well.  Until I sat down in workshop yesterday and looked at the poems my new writer friends submitted and promptly started to feel pretty awkward when I was flipping through poems looking for what interested me and ignoring the rest.  I guess this means that I need to start spending more time with poems and seeing where the craft is in each one.  That’s going to take more time and more patience.  And dammit, it’s probably going to take more knowledge of poetry.  Here’s another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into.


Written by seeker70

June 17, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Iowa (preview)

with one comment

I’m kicking it in Iowa City right now.  I showed up this afternoon after a windy and contentious drive from Chicago, and have already unpacked and rode my bike around University of Iowa.  It’s nice to be back, and by “be back” I mean it’s nice to return to where the whole writing thing pretty much started rolling for me ten years ago.

Iowa hosts their Summer Writing Festival each year to bring in aspiring writers from around the country and maintain their reputation as the cradle of American literature.  I learned of the festival in 2004 and decided to give it a try, and based on my positive experience decided that I wanted to do more writing–like, “get another masters degree” more writing.  So I did, and now I’m back here in a poetry workshop for most of the summer.

I had to audition for this one; it going far beyond the general cattle call of the writing festival.  So I sent off a fiction portfolio and a poetry portfolio since there is a workshop offered in both.  I was cocky enough to think I’d be accepted into both of them, but I was only half right.  I got word that I was accepted into the poetry workshop, and here I am.  And here I’ll be for the most part until August 4.

I’m looking at this as a big step as a writer–bigger than the last time I spent a good chunk of summer on a college campus.  I’ll finally get some solid, structured instruction in writing poetry.  I’ve pretty much pottered around with the genre the last nine years, kind of keeping it as my “left-handed” skill.  I’ve read The Writer’s Almanac each day, instructed my students in some of the fundamentals of writing poetry, written a lot of crappy poems, a small amount of mediocre poems, and at least ten pretty decent poems that spoke well enough on my behalf to get me here.

I’m eager to get started.  This is a graduate-level, non-credit workshop, and as such, I’m mighty curious about who the hell takes classes like this.  Who works at the grad level, but doesn’t need the credit?  Who can afford to take the time, much less pay the tuition and board himself for seven weeks?  The answers await, along with other answers about how, exactly, one writes poetry.

Written by seeker70

June 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers

%d bloggers like this: