Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Confession Tuesday: When It's Hard to Settle Into a Writing Retreat Edition

Uncle Walt, our pet seagull.
Dear Reader, 

It has been over a year and half since I've been on any sort of writing retreat or writing residency.

Two weeks ago, I left my regular life for the retreat lifestyle-- new poems, being offline, an overwhelming desire to create, books and readings, getting lost in my work.

Well, that didn't happen, but let me tell you what did--

I confess I thought I was going to write new poems, but instead I wrote nothing new. 

While we were in a beautiful area, in fact ON the water with a family of deer walking by, porpoises and a gray whale out our window, a seagull we named Uncle Walt who visited us daily, I couldn't write new work.

Looking back I'm not really sure why this happened, but here are some thoughts--

1) There was wi-fi.  While I was cut-off from Facebook (I deactivated my account), I was not fully cut off from the news or real life.  For me, this is essential when on a writing retreat. Time has to be endless, those long days where I can't get lost in a string of internet research or information.  Instead, I knew what was going on the world, and oddly, my creative self just wouldn't let go.

2) The place was beautiful, but maybe too beautiful.  I am used to writing in places that have a more artistic, cabinlike, rustic feel.  I am usually in a big sweater and worried about a ghost or being too hot or too cold.  Here, I had marble countertops. I had a wicker laundry basket.  I felt more as if I was on vacation than on a writing retreat.

3) Anxiety.  This time of year, I tend to have much more anxiety than in the summer. For some reason, I found my anxiety through the roof and had to check in at home. Scratch that, I didn't *have to* do anything. I called home more times in this residency than I have in all of my residencies combined.

Normally, I only use text to correspond with my family so it doesn't take me out of writer's mind. This time, I called home, texted, and at one point, used Facetime to connect. While each time eased my anxiety, it also never let me go deeper. I need to go deep on these retreats as that is where my best work is done.


I confess I did get work done.

So what do you do when you are on a writing retreat and can't write?

1) Organize!  Last year, I wrote a TON of poems, but I haven't even really looked at most of them, just wrote them and left them in my In Process folder until it was time to revise.  So when I couldn't write new poems, I went through each of my poems seeing which had potential and then...

2) I revised. I revised poem after poem.  When I can't write, I know the editor part of my brain is alive and always ready to work. So I revised and revised and revised.  I moved quite a few poems into my "completed" folder, which felt good.

3)  Officially started Manuscript 4!  As I looked at my poems that had been published and the ones I loved, I began to put poems in a folder to see what I had. I have more than I thought. I knew there was a collection in the making, I've been working on it in my head, but I hadn't started organizing it--considering sections, a title, what poems should be included, etc.  Well, since I wasn't writing, I had time to do this. 

3)  Sleep / lay in bed and think about my manuscript.  I don't know what you do when you can't sleep or before falling asleep, but I walk through my manuscript in-process in my head. I visualize the title page, then a section and wander through my poems making connections, ordering them in my head, exploring themes and ideas.

This is something I never really have time to do in my regular life. But I spent quite a few hours in bed (my favorite place) just thinking about this next book.  And usually while doing that, I'd fall asleep, which sometimes took me deeper, or sometimes had me dreaming bizarre things about ouija boards (another story).

4) Meditate. I did more of this on this retreat than all other retreats combined.  This was how I emptied my head and tried to allow more insight to enter.

5) Worked on Two Sylvias Press stuff. This wasn't planned, but my partner, Annette, was with me and we both found ourselves getting incredible ideas for the press just randomly during the day.  We had gone on this retreat to get away from our editorial lives, but here we were making plans and jotting down ideas.  

Once I decided whatever happens on this retreat will benefit me, I just let go. I let anxiety happen, the Two Sylvias work be done, the poem be revised, the poems not written, the naps, the thoughts, the meditations, the walks on the beach, the extra long happy hours, all of it.  

I stopped trying to control what was happening and instead just be.

While this retreat did not give me the poems I had hoped for, it did offer more of the left brain things I tend never to do on retreats-- the planning and organizing things, the business/press work, the extra time to talk with friends over drinks and appetizers set out on the coffeetable.

I stopped trying to be productive and just was.  And I think the retreat helped me other ways I may not realize yet. And yes, that's okay too.  


~ Kells 

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Monday, November 17, 2014

What I'm Reading: How To Read a Poem by Tania Runyan

So I've had this book on my nightstand for awhile and somehow it never made it down to my office to be written about.

But since it's moving into the holiday season, How To Read a Poem by Tania Runyan, may be a good choice.

What's lovely about this book is that it not only shares how to read a poem, but also includes an anthology with poems by Barbara Crooker, Maureen Doallas, Bob Hicok, and many others.

This would be a great book for anyone who is new to poetry, both as a reader or writer.  

Full disclosure-- My poem from the Virginia Quarterly Review, is in the first chapter on imagery.

What I like about this book?  It explains the tidbits (imagery, sound, line, but also "that A-ha moment," and other chapters that will move the reader inside the poem) that as poets, we know, but others may not.

I like that the book is not overwhelming. Runyan shares a bit about the subject, then there are poems to explore yourself.

As I said, I think this would be a great gift for any of your friends or family who is interested in what you do as a poet, or anyone who has shown an interest in the poem.

As a poet, it may help you look at the poem with new fresh eyes and remember why you read poetry and love it.

How to read a poem. A lot of books want to teach you just that. How is this one different? Think of it less as an instructional book and more as an invitation. For the reader new to poetry, this guide will open your senses to the combined craft and magic known as "poems". For the well versed, if you will, this book might make you fall in love again. How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem "Introduction to Poetry")—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology included.

PRAISE FOR How To Read a Poem: 

While this book says it’s an invitation, it’s really much more. It’s a conversation—between you (lucky reader), Tania Runyan (funny, helpful friend) and these poems (brilliantly brought to the table by Runyan). No reader, experienced or new to reading poems, will want to miss this winsome and surprising way into the rich, wonderful conversations that poetry makes possible. —David Wright, Assistant Professor of English at Monmouth College, IL

Runyan expertly brings you into her world of approaching and interpreting poetry, which is both mysterious and ordered. I would recommend this book to anyone hoping to gain insight into poetry. Prepare to have your heart captured! —Thomas Purnell, Licensed Professional Counselor 

Having taught poetry in high schools for over twenty-five years, I’ve grown tired of Intro-to-Poetry texts that feel they must overwhelm the student with the authors’ erudition or the art’s storied history of technique. If there is truly a need for the news only poetry can deliver, then those tomes make dismal advertisements. Tania Runyan has broken with this flat tradition and, in affectionate conversation with the wit of Billy Collins, produced a model for engaging in discovery of poetry’s value—no prior book-learning or companion text required. Which is not to say her ambition is slight; she would thrill to see novices become lifelong readers, even passionate scholars of the art and poets themselves, but she gets it. Her book reads like a playful love letter—a creative intercession on poetry’s behalf—to the hearts of a new generation, those on whom so much, like the future of the art, depends. —Brad Davis, Poet, teacher, and counselor at Pomfret School

~ Kells 

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Support Small Presses, Poets, Writers, & Artists this Holiday Season!

In December, I'm going to be sharing blog posts about Gifts and Books for Poets, Writers, Readers, and Literary Lovers.

What you need to know-- no one is paying me to share these items, they are things I've found on my own and think our cool. They are things I have or things I would shop for. I don't get any kickback, any commission, any free gift for sharing them. The only exception would be any thing I share from Two Sylvias Press, which is, well, my press.  But I still think they are cool gifts and publications.

I'm sharing them because they make my literary heart beat a little faster and because if I was Oprah, they'd be on my favorite things list and I'd be mailing them out to you.

For the most part, these will not be from corporations, but individuals (such as people on Etsy or small companies) as I truly believe in SUPPORTING THE INDIE PERSON or INDIE PRESS during the holiday season.

Look, you're going to be spending the money anyway. You're going to have to get a gift for your Cousin Lisa, give her something that will immediately help one other person, such as a gift from someone on Etsy, or an individual who sells vintage items on eBay, or from an artist's website, or from a small press directly.

I cannot stress this enough.  SHOP INDIE!

As someone with $5 in your pocket, you can make a difference in another person's life just by your shopping choices.  Think about that as the holiday season arrives and settles in.

~ Kells 

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