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Relationship

The writer is first and foremost in relationship, just not with many of the current surrounding preoccupations. Sometimes relationships suffer because of this. The writer spends all morning in pajamas with unkept hair contemplating Thomas Merton as the “popular” crowd bounces by in the latest Athleta jogging pants on their way to some popular place. They are talking about dog parks and how Heaven is real. It’s impossible to keep up with buzz words and passing fancies and drive-through profoundness.

This sounds like snobbery. Oh it isn’t! I love Athleta and I have a closet full of yoga pants. After I write this post, I will head upstairs put on said jogging pants and do my hair so I can go out in public for a few hours of shopping or lunching or exercising. But the truth is, these last few months have been among the most clear in my life in terms of My Writing Life, and one truth which has pressed upon me and saddened me is that attaining my writing goals means I have to give up some of my relationships.

In the garden of my life, in order to keep the prize plants blooming best, I have to weed out the less integral seedlings. This is not a value judgement, just a reality. If a friendship drains me, I have to cut it. If I have invested many hours attending Bible studies and circles and committees and I have not seen relationships bloom, perhaps that is because I am not supposed to be there in the first place.

No more time for friends who don’t ever say anything intelligent or interesting to me even if it is because they doubt my intelligence while grossly misjudging their own. My guess is this happens to poets alot, and I include this post to make us all, as poets and writers, feel more “normal” about social mazes and ladders we cannot climb if we want to stay true to ourselves.

I don’t choose to forego the climb because I don’t know about Athleta. Or because I am not pretty. I am. Or because I can’t speed-read Francis Chan.

The diet of the writer must be carefully selected. The environment must be pared -down, immaculately constructed, and deliberately set. My relationships right now offer me much less noise, but much more beautiful sound. Keeping busy is treading water. This is flying.

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Telling your friends

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201105/how-love-yourself-first

Why is it so difficult for me to explain to the friends who know me best that I am a serious writer? I find it baffling, but I have also come to the realization that I have to take responsibility for the mistaken identity I must be projecting and thereby conning my best friends.

The above article is about learning to love yourself, and the fact that tomorrow is officially Love Day means it can’t hurt to post the link.

The article states that each of us carries a good deal of guilt about the parts of us that are the most gifted or special, and that guilt, which the psychologist emphasizes is universal and not dependent upon upbringing or childhood circumstances is responsible for why we disallow the vulnerability to share our true selves with others, and even with ourselves sometimes. Perhaps this helps explain the reactions of my friends when I tell them I have recently had some of my poetry published.

Friend #1 stopped sharing with me over coffee and gave the general impression that she thought I was writing about her. (She’s never come within a mile of my poetry and perhaps has never read a serious poem in her life). Then she proceeded to explain to me that anyone can get published on the Internet.  Friend #2 asked me if I had penned a poem about the birth of my grandson. I almost replied No, I am not Sharon Olds ( I would become a confessional poet in a heartbeat if I could write like Sharon Olds), but then I realized this friend would have no idea who Sharon Olds is.

I have to give these friends a break. It is poetry we are talking about. I believe I am better at writing poetry than talking about it. My writing makes a better impression than I probably do. I don’t want to hide my true self and my gifts from those who matter the most to me anymore. Someday I hope that under “occupation” I can actually write “poet” and mean it without flinching or feeling the imposter.

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MFA jitters….

I knew this would happen. I found out recently that I have been accepted into my top-choice MFA program at Ashland University and I suddenly feel like the master of the simple sentence. All the little critics in my head are harping their responses to my exciting news.

What do you think you are doing? You aren’t good enough. You don’t have any thing to say or a voice to say it with!

Luckily, I have some time to regroup and get my confidence back before the summer residency in July. I know that I am writing too much, revising too little, and reading much too little. So this week I am starting a reading regimen (after I get through the Grisham book for my book club this week…a girl’s got to have some fun) which will include reading a book of poems by one poet each week. I will probably start by re-reading some of the chapbooks I already own. I want to focus heavily on Native American poets–Sherman Alexie, Ai, Joy Harjo, Natasha Tretheway, and others.

I will start, of course, with Seamus Heaney (poetry god).  I plan to jot down some thoughts while reading with the particular task of determining for myself how each poet achieves the living thing he or she creates upon the page.

Nothing shuts up the Little Critics like a dose of Heaney. His poetry is unattainable, but it is so beautiful, so gripping, that it gives me cause to participate in the art in whatever meaningful way that I can.

Heaney and Yeats, the two greats in my opinion who tower above all other poets, have a way of turning a poem on a single line. I will post some of those lines as I read them this week. What about you? Which poets have you discovered or re-discovered this week?

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New Submissions

Yesterday, I endured the tedium of going through the collection of poems on my hard drive (for many of these poems the DELETE button would be a mercy-killing but I can’t help but hope for them). I selected four poems to submit to a new online literary journal which is affiliated with my former graduate school.

Speaking of graduate school….today I am going to click the appropriate boxes and accept an offer from Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio, to enter the MFA Poetry program this summer.

I look forward to connecting with other poets at the two-week residency and to working toward the goal of a masters degree. Most of all, I look forward to growth and improvement as a writer.

No man is an island. John Donne was right. No writer is an island either. To publish a manuscript of poems will require hours each day of solitude, but let’s face it, when we writers are with our non-writer friends, we are always reaching out to them from our islands, our writer-worlds. We need a community of other writers, other “weirdo’s,” to affirm that we are indeed doing what we are supposed to do with our time and our lives.

Besides, revision not  only loves company, it must have company, a community to tell us our word-choice is suspect, our crafting of the poetic line is mish-mash, our concept is limping along on too many crutches.

Let the critiques begin!

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Rhythm

Balance, order, rhythm and harmony are much more difficult to achieve than intensity.

There is a subtle difference between tapping into the rhythms of life, biologically and spiritually, and setting an external schedule that one must adhere to. The life of the writer must involve both. For example, if I wait for my internal sense of timing to tell me to do the laundry it will never get done. My inner rhythm NEVER tells me that!  Conversely, if I only follow an externally-imposed to-do list, I will soon feel depleted and poetry in my life will never happen.

I don’t make daily to-do lists anymore. I keep a running  list of tasks that need to get completed and I try to tackle one or two of those each day. I do a number of “jobs” on a daily  basis that don’t require a written reminder. I know I will grocery shop every day. I know I will retrieve my son from school and make myself available to hear about his day. I know I will eat every day and cook most days. I will get some form of exercise. I do household chores every day.

The rest of my day must tap into that inner flow of being. This is where writing happens. It may feel lazy at first, but the writer must ask herself, do I want to accomplish perfectly-made beds today or a piece of original writing? Household order is essential to me, but it must serve as a means to the end, not as an end in itself.

Write on!

North Country Farms

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

In my life, no two days are exactly alike. Usually I can arise when I like and take on the day in the manner that suits me. That, however, is surely not the same as saying there is no rhythm to my fine life. I thrive on rhythm. I surely know children do and I think most adults crave it in some fashion also.
 
The farm has an ebb and flow that needs tending to — every week we plant  trays of seeds, every two weeks we plant baby starts out in the field, every Tuesday we harvest for our community, every Wednesday we hoe and weed all the gardens.
 
Each morning I make the rounds of the farm, feeding the cats, ducks, chickens and rabbits. It is a slow and…

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Baby…the ultimate writer’s block

I have the most adorable reason for not working on my writing all this week! My first grandson was born a few days ago so life as we know it has been temporarily suspended. I am cleaning and cooking and have to get my house ready for my daughters’ return this weekend. They are so excited to meet Baby A. I would post pictures (I would love to show my grandbaby off!) but my son is an extremely private guy and not a fan of social media so I must honor his wishes and keep Baby A’s pictures to myself. Trust me…he’s beautiful!

Writing and real life are sometimes like a bad blind date, aren’t they? But babies are the ultimate poetry. I love it when I return home from an hour of holding my grandson and find that I still have that baby smell on my sleeve. More relevent posts forthcoming after a brief hiatus to Babyland.

****I should add that I did get some writing done this morning. Two “litanies” for my collection. These poems have been sent off as samples to a book publisher. I am anxiously awaiting a response to this book proposal and attempting to write a few litanies each week.

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Here’s the Deal….

The life of a freelance writer is not a 9-to-5 gig. It’s not a day filled with checking off to-do’s either. It’s not a life of coming and going and Michelangelo-ing.” No one, other than other poets and fiction writers devoted to their craft, will understand your life at all.

Here’s a paragraph highlighting a formula for living if you don’t want to really succeed as a writer. For the past 30 years I have structured my life so that by all outward appearances I am a “normal” person (I don’t mean I am abnormal, set-apart, or special as compared to anyone else).  I have tried to be “Kerri”…..Supermom, Superwife, Super-fit, Super Volunteer, Super Church Lady….by day, then slip into  my secret phone booth by night with my laptop and create myself as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved every second of my life and I have accomplished some very rewarding things, not the least of which are the kids I have raised who are my favorite people on this planet. I have invested myself in a marriage that I wouldn’t trade for any best-selling novel (unless I could be Tolstoy…have to think about that one). I have thrown some terrific parties. I have championed the cause of dyslexia and read thousands of pages to children. What I haven’t accomplished, though, are most of my writing goals.

2013 is the year of change. No more rushing around my home appearing to be busy because a friend is at the door,peering into my curtain-less windows and judging me for what looks by all outward appearances as a life of sloth and lethargy. For the writer Rest is Work. Writers must have downtime, and hours of unstructured, uninterrupted time. That’s why I never answer my phone. I can text. I can email, and then put myself smack-dab into the poem I am writing, but if I have to talk, I will never get the door to the poem to reopen for me so I can finish it. Not only do I prefer text and email, I am prolific at it. Prepare to read if you get a text or an email from me!

No more baking. I don’t bake. I also don’t scrapbook. I don’t watch much television. As for church, writing is my one and only true spiritual gift. I do clean, but only because I can’t work creatively in a cluttered, messy house. I am simplifying my meal preparation processes and calling that cooking. Besides, eating fruits and veggies in their raw state is healthier anyway. Have an apple is my go-to phrase these days.

I am also cleaning up my relationships. I no longer have time to share and share alike. I still value the importance of being a good listener, but if I refrain from the need to be southern and wax on and on about myself, it cuts all conversations (including the ones with the check-out lady at Wal-mart) in half. This change is a hard one for me. Someone give me an apple.

I am also streamlining my exercise routines. I no longer have three hours every morning to workout. I  miss the social aspect of my fitness regimen, but I can see most of my fitness girlfriends just by hitting a couple of classes a week. On other days,  I can meet Mr. Elliptical Machine for 30 minutes at lunch and the rest of my day I can devote to writing.

I am forcing myself to say I am a writer. Until I have the break-through publishing moment, my friends will probably still think all I do is sit around in my pajamas playing on Facebook. But I know better, and if I know better, what everyone else thinks really doesn’t matter. Each day I wake up and I go straight to the coffee pot. Then I perform my motherly tasks like making sack lunches and finding homework in a comatose state. Once the son and husband are on their ways in the morning, I set my mind on things above…as in reading my Bible followed by pursuit of my lofty writing goals. If any activity in my day doesn’t feed either my family or the afore-mentioned monster, I simply no longer do it. An apple a day…..

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On a Rejection Role!

I am proud of my writing work ethic lately, and a bit bemused to discover that even though I have been devoting four to six hours each day to writing, editing and reading, my house is still clean and my family has not starved. I have just been “Keeping it simple, stupid.” Instead of homemade tomato basil soup, last night we had grilled cheese and tomato soup from a can with a red label. Secretly I believe my son actually likes soup from a can better!

This morning I organized several poems into a manuscript sample and constructed a book proposal which I just zapped to a publisher via the world wide web. These poems are litanies intended for use in corporate worship. I am encouraged to find several major publishers who are currently accepting book proposals in the category of ministry resources.

Keeping my fingers crossed and my heart open. Perhaps poetry, like everything else, is a game of percentages. You miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take.

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Clarity

I have experienced a great deal of clarity in my life since the New Year as far as my writing life is concerned. I have begun to simplify my life, my to-do lists, my clothing choices, every aspect of my life that drains energy and focus from my writing. Clean. Simple. Single-mindedness. These are descriptors I am meditating on as I go through my day. It sounds so simple but it has taken me a lifetime to realize that if I continue to attempt to define myself as good at so many other things (cooking, friendship, fitness, board games, church, hand-made cards, scrapbooking, decorating…you get the drift), I am NEVER going to publish that book of poems! Notice I didn’t mention marriage in that list, and that is because I am blessed with a very low-maintenance guy, and because when I am happy…he’s happy. Writing is what makes me happy.

I entered ten poems in the Iowa Review contest today, and finished up applications to low residency MFA programs.

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White Space

I am struck this morning that white space defines the poem. The two writers whose caverns of blankness assert themselves most to me as a reader are Emily Dickinson and Willa Cather. I am also convinced that what I do with lack in my life ultimately defines me, and by lack I don’t mean the deliberate doing without self-imposed by so many evangelicals in my midst. After all, we never starve ourselves to the point of true hunger. This is not Christ’s intention for those He died for–the puffed-up, empty belly. This is not the denying of self that Scriptures portray, this is putting ourselves front and center in the white space. Salvation is truly an end to all doing for It is finished. It’s been done.

Dickinson’s poetry assumes nothing yet feels so complete, but upon closer reading her words, while they rigidly adhere to her “rules,” bleed and run off the page, and yet one feels as though they have consumed her text in a satisfying way, only to find that the stomach still growls for more. What’s in the space this giant doesn’t inhabit? This is what keeps me coming back daily to her poetry.

In life, the emptiness that comes to us when we stop pursuing it is the true lack in the Emily-sense.