Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shameless Plug

For any Juneau folks out there...come hang out with us on Friday night or Saturday morning.  I'd love to see your work!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When In Doubt, Consult Billy

One of the things we talk about in my workshops is writing poems about poetry.  I typically discourage this as the poems often don't have much chance of lift-off--they tend to be fallback poems when students can't think of anything to write about.  My argument is usually that the topic of poetry isn't going to result in a fabulous poem that's going to ignite us, or help us see the world in a fresh way.

But, of course, my little theory was put to the test by the fabulous Billy Collins.  I had written this comment on a student's paper a few weeks back, and on a whim thought I better surf to see if any great poems about poetry had lately come to light.  My first hit was this poem by our former poet laureate, which immediately made me eat my words.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for the light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

-        Billy Collins

Just fabulous, isn't it?  I love the way his mind makes these perfect leaps and as we land on each stepping stone we recognize it immediately, as some part of our world--something we haven't yet named, but know intimately.  I love moments like this between reader and writer and poem.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If I Were

Last week in workshop we studied Michael Ondaatje's poem "The Cinnamon Peeler."  Here it is:


If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulder would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you.  The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back.  This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
   --your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

                        this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

                                    and knew

                        what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler’s wife.  Smell me.

                        - Michael Ondaatje, The Cinnamon Peeler, Selected Poems

I love this poem, of course, and my students did too. I've tried to teach this off and on for years, in various classes, and usually without much success--it's a complex poem.  This time we talked about the imaged narrative--starting a poem with "If I were--" and going from there.  We had the idea that starting this way would force some freedom into our work.  We also mapped the verb tense use in the poem, noting the four tenses Ondaatje moves through, and how he's able to crescendo the poem in part through this verb work.

So I assigned the students an "If I were" poem and last night they read the results.  They were fantastic!  What we noticed, after they had read their poems, is how almost all of them felt like performance poems.  They had the cadence and rhythm of spoken-word poetry and so many of them were very unlike the work those writers normally do.  It was interesting to think about imagined narratives turning to persona poems, which then called up performance voices for these writers.  Many of the poems were hilarious ("If I were a dark lord...") and not a few were pretty deep and intense emotional poems.

I'm so inspired by their work I'm going to spend this week working on my own "If I were" poem.  What a magical teaching experience--I love it when my students teach me, and help shape my own work.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Room of My Own

It's been many years since I've had my own writing room.  Years ago, when we first moved into our little blue house, I had this sweet room with a window looking out over the water and mountains.  I wrote my first book in that room.  When my first child was born, I turned that into her nursery.  I was happy to do it, but missed having a space of my own.

My second book was written at the kitchen table.  And while that has its pleasures, it's so sweet to have my own room again.  

We recently moved into a new house, and I finally have a room, with a door I can close, and a window.  This new window again looks over the ocean and the mountains.  I've filled it with most of my poetry collection, and a mug of my favorite pens.  And my daughter, now five, has decorated the walls with colorful portraits of the two of us together.   

Nothing could be finer than this space.  I'm so filled with gratitude.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Thanks, Robert Hass

It's summer, so I think that's a pretty good excuse to take a hiatus from the blog...but it's maybe not the only reason I've been away.  I haven't been writing or blogging since school got out.  It's been a tough summer--some big family issues and not much free time.  But also stressful on the writing front.  Yesterday someone posted a great quote by Robert Hass (one of my favorite poets) that got my attention though.  Here it is:

“It's hell writing and it's hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” 
 Robert Hass

That is so absolutely true, and it sort of woke me up, I think, to my poetry slump.  Hass is a former US Poet Laureate and his work is amazing. I especially love it because he's the antithesis of a language poet.  Anyone can read his work.  It's not about language or craft or showing off or anything else I despise in some poetry.  It's absolutely straight from the shared human heart.  I teach one of his poems in my intro lit class every semester and that poem is singlehandedly responsible for convincing hundreds of students that poetry is not as horrific as they had assumed.  Here it is:

A Story About the Body

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week.  She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her.  He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions.  One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me.  I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.”  The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity—like music—withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry.  I don’t think I could.”  He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door.  It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl—she must have swept them from the corners of her studio—was full of dead bees.

                                                            -- Robert Hass, Human Wishes

Amazing, right?

This week my friend and writer Heather Lende and I have been talking online about writing and teaching too.  We've been talking about the pressure of being a writing teacher and how that can make it hard to write.  I realized I've been thinking about this, unconsciously, all wrong.  I'm thinking too big.  Maybe it's having a book come out this year, but I've been really focused on the huge plateaus--I'm thinking about book projects and tenure and all the giant stuff.  What I need to be thinking about is a single poem.  

One day Hass just got up and wrote "A Story about the Body." At least the early draft.  Who knows what he was going through when he wrote it.  But I bet it was "hell" before he wrote it.  And probably while he was revising it too. But I bet the morning he sat down and wrote that poem, it was a euphoric moment.  I like to think when he wrote that last line ("was full of dead bees") he got that little poetry rush--that oh yeah moment.  And he's right--that's the only tolerable moment of writing.  

I need to remember the rest of it is hell.  And start putting my feet to the fire.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Inevitability and Surprise

I read a great article this week in the NYT by poet Charles Simic.  I've admired his work since I studied it in college so was interested what he had to say about poetry these days.  It was a good article but one sentence in particular really stood out to me.  He was talking about poem endings, and he said "endings must have the inevitability and surprise of an elegantly executed checkmate."  That combination of inevitability and surprise struck me as exactly right.  

Endings feel so incredibly important--the climax of a poem, and getting them exactly right feels like so much of the work of a poem.  I learned early on from poets like Charles Simic, James Wright, and Jane Kenyon that endings can absolutely make or break a poem.

What I love about his quote is that it describes the exact feeling a reader gets at the ending, when we realize the writer has gotten it exactly right.  It feels like what we've been heading toward, or what we intuitively felt ourselves about something but hadn't yet articulated.  And then the surprise.  The surprise wakes us up to ourselves and our world in a fresh way.  It avoids any sense of the cliched or overworked and manages to open us up even before we realized we needed to open up.  I think few poems can truly do both, and when they do it gives us such a rush.

I think if I had to choose one thing to love most about poetry (at least today) it would be that rush--both as a  reader when I read a poem that does that--and as a writer, when I sometimes (not often enough) manage to create the sweet, addictive rush myself.

So here's a sweet little Simic poem.  Thanks Charles.

Eyes Fastened With Pins
by Charles Simic

How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death's supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can't figure it out
Among all the locked doors... 
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.

The NYT article:  http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/may/15/why-i-still-write-poetry/

Photo Credit: Haggard & Halloo Publications

Poem Citation:  http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15259

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writing Exercise: Obsessions

My friend James Engelhardt and I sometimes swap poems to get a little advice and help from each other.  I feel very lucky to have him as a poetry buddy.  He gave me a really great idea for an exercise a few months ago.  I thought I'd post this as it might be something you might want to play with too.

I sent him a poem that started with the lines How will I love/without another birth?  James' idea was that I try a whole series of poems that begin with that same question.  I love this exercise as it's really helped me explore a current obsession in my writing.  I find that I (and a lot of poets I know) tend to have obsessions about certain topics and we have to write until we get those out.  Ideas and topics show up in poems over and over.  It's one of the things I love best about poetry books--being able to see a particular question or theme explored in multiple ways.  I've never before tried to directly address that idea by writing multiple poems starting with the same lines. It's been so much fun to do it.  

Here are a few openings I'm working on:

My Beautiful Eggs

How will I live
without another birth?

Without this sure sign,
that I am loved by one

greater than myself?

Apologies to the Body

How will I live without another birth?
By losing weight
by cutting my hair
by piercing my ears, again.

I’m considering a tattoo, although I don’t
tell anyone yet.

After Lucy

How will I live
without another birth?

I watch the fall wind
shake the alder tree

and even that looks like
a contraction, leaves spiraling

I'm not sure if any of these will turn out to be "keepers" but it's fun to play with, and useful to have a set place to start.  Hope this is something that might help you too.  And thanks to James for the idea!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


My book is up on Amazon!    http://www.amazon.com/Liveaboard-Emily-Wall/dp/1907056971/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335382262&sr=8-1

I found a really cool Amazon-ian thing this time around too.  They have created "author pages" now that are really fun and interesting.  An author can go in and add material about his/her book (descriptions, etc.), make sure the books under his/her name are correct, and check all the information.  But even more fun is the data--it allows you to see how many books have been sold, where they are sold, and how your sales look across the months.  Right now only one book has been sold on Amazon, so I have this grey map of the US with a lovely blue square for New Mexico.  Thanks person in New Mexico who bought my book!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Food Writing

I'm going to teach a creative writing workshop in the fall on "food writing."  I've always loved food fiction and I thought it would be fun to explore food poetry and non-fiction as well.  One of the best parts of my job is getting to read books that I might teach, and I spent all winter reading foodie books to get ready.  It was such fun getting into this genre.

Yesterday in class I had my students write a haiku in two minutes.  I sat down to do it too (I always try to do the exercises I assign) and all that food reading must have been on my mind.  Here it is:

My Mom’s Old Recipe Box

I slide out a card
and flavors explode on my
tongue:  Love.  Longing.  Regret.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poetry Between the Lines

I have a month to go in the semester, and I've hit that inevitable moment I hit every semester when my writing takes the backseat to grading.  Every semester it seems to happen right about this time, and as much as I swear I'm going to not let it go, I do. The massive, tilting, guilty stacks of student papers take over and I lose all will and motivation to write.

This week I've been delighted by how many friends and writers are posting poems or parts of poems on Facebook for National Poetry Month.  This morning I've been wondering if there's a way to slip a little poetry into my life in these times when it's impossible (ok, not impossible but clearly difficult) to sit down and write.  Most writers I know go through periods like this when we just can't get it done.  And we miss it terribly. 

So, here is my brainstorm list for how to get a little poetry in between the lines of my life. I'd love to hear your ideas too:

1.  Poem in Your Pocket.  I bought this sweet book at AWP this year put out by the Academy of American Poets.  It's a "book" that's really a large tablet full of poems. You rip one out and put it in your pocket and carry it around all day.  How perfect is that?

2.  Hand Poetry.  Write one line of a poem you're working on on your hand.  Preferably the back.  Just think about that line all day, tinker with it, read it aloud often.

3.  Poem Flow App.  I found this great app for my phone called "Poem Flow"  It gives you a new poem every day.  

4.  New Word.  Yesterday on Facebook Terry Tempest Williams asked everyone to post their favorite words.  She got everything from "moss" to "spatula."  Find one new word and play with it in your head all day.  How would I use that word?  Could I open a poem with it?  What are all its derivations?

5.  Daily Haiku.  I have to confess I adore haiku.  I'm thinking if I set myself the task of writing one haiku, that would feel less daunting than a longer poem. I could take all day. I could work on one line at a time.  But I'd write one haiku every day for, say a week.  Or a month.  However long I need to get back to my regular writing time.  It might be kind of fun to work on a theme for the haiku of that period.  Birth haiku?  Coffee haiku?  Cat/Dog haiku?

So now I'm lecturing myself back into writing, in some way, every day.  Please do post your ideas and thought--I'd love to see them!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book Preview, Part 2

It's been a crazy week for this writer...so I'm going to take the easy road and offer up another poem from Liveaboard.  

Our bridge of sighs
is a metal ramp with foot holds:

on one end, the wooden
dock, the green river, sweet with grasses.

On the other, a parking
lot, an industrial complex, a highway.

We traverse ours
every morning, the ring of boots

a gavel striking
another small pock in our bodies.

But every night
we reverse the journey as well,

stepping from oily asphalt
onto the ramp that sways a little

with our good weight.  We step
through air, across water,

back into the quiet cells
where we live our nights, trying

for some kind of pardon
for the way we spend each day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reading on the Radio or in Person?

I love reading on the radio.  I was on KTOO yesterday afternoon with Pat Moore and it was so much fun.  I love sitting behind that big, plush mike.  I love watching all the lights and little sliders on the sound boards.  I love looking out the window watching a raven fly by while we talk.  The radio has such a perfect blend of intimacy and privacy. I love not wondering if I've missed a button on my shirt.  And for poetry, it feels so perfect because the focus is so much on the language itself, and on the voice.  Here's a link to the radio show if you want to hear it.  I'm on 2nd, so it's about 15 minutes into the show:  http://www.ktoonews.org/2012/03/26/juneau-afternoon-32712/

This is not to say I don't like doing readings in person.  I'm giving one tonight at UAS and I'm looking forward to it, but I feel more anxiety about reading in person.  There's so much more to think about, and as a rather shy poet, the idea of all of those people  looking at me for 45 minutes is a bit unnerving.  I'm very grateful that they want to, of course, and so glad to see support for poetry in Juneau, and excited to see who will come, and what kind of conversations we'll have.  But I'm still nervous.  What if I flub a poem?  (I probably will.)  What if I get the hiccups?  (My irrational, persistent fear before all readings.)  How do I not look nervous?  

I remember the first reading I gave in Juneau--this was years ago and it was at an Evening at Egan on campus so it was a pretty big crowd. I have a good poetry friend who came, and who knew how nervous I was feeling.  Right before I went up, she pulled me into the women's bathroom and handed over an airplane bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream.  She had one for herself too, so we did our shots and then bravely went back out to face the crowd.   It was perfect.  (Since then I've either been pregnant or breastfeeding, so I've had to learn to do readings without that little sweet helper.)

The fun thing about getting ready for a reading is the time I get to spend with the poems again.   Thinking about performing, and about who will be there, is a whole new way to look at the work. The poetry starts to become a very real conversation in my head.  I always intend it to be when I'm writing it, but the thought of reading, of speaking it aloud, makes that even clearer for me.  It's interesting how some poems naturally feel more appropriate for reading aloud--the ones that are stories, or ask questions, maybe, or in some way engage the audience.  And other poems feel more like armchair poems--the ones we want to read quietly when no one else is around.  

It also makes me think of all the readings I've been to and the way readings change my understanding of the poems I hear.  I love hearing a little background on the poems, or hearing the stories behind them.  This is especially nice if it's poetry I know well and love; hearing them read and talked about by the writer gives me a whole new relationship with the poems.  I hope I'll be able to do that tonight too.

So this morning I'm just reading through poems, trying not to think about hiccups, and getting excited for the conversations that will happen tonight.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Trailer!

So apparently the new fad in book promotion is book trailers.  I think it's kind of a cool idea, actually.  I secretly really like making home movies, so I jumped right on this one and had a lot of fun with it.

There is a really great e-book written by Poets & Writers about book promotion (The Poets & Writers Guide to Publicity and Promotion) that is well worth a read.  It has chapters on various ways to help promote your work on little-to-no budget.  One whole chapter is on book trailers.  They talk about using trailers to really introduce the idea of the book, and to help readers get a sense of what the book is about.  It really works the same way movie trailers do.  I think right now it's more of a fiction thing, but I found a really great trailer on  YouTube by Alaskan writer Vivian Faith Prescott (The Hide of My Tongue is her fabulous book of poems).  That trailer gave me some good ideas to get started.

I think this one might be a little long, and I'll keep working on it, but here it is.  I'd love any feedback! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing to Terry, Visiting William

Today I put my book in the mail to Terry Tempest Williams.  I know, bold move.   I sent her the book because one of the poems is dedicated to her, and because her bird writing inspired so much of the book. I wanted to find a way to say thank you, and maybe find a way to start a conversation.  I know I probably won't ever hear from her.  And that's ok.  I've met her twice and I know she's fabulous and sensitive and grateful and all the things we hope for from our favorite authors.   And if she writes a brilliant paragraph in her next book instead of an email to me, I'm good with that.   

But of course a little part of me is hoping anyway.  When I was a sophomore in college my then-writing teacher, Ira Sadoff (a brilliant poet--if you don't know his work you should) found out I was from Oregon and told me I should write to William Stafford.  At that time Stafford was teaching at Lewis & Clark College, which was just a short bus-ride from my house.  So I did.  I emailed him a letter telling him how much I loved his poems and including a few of my own.  And a few months later I got a letter back from him, inviting me up to see him when I came home for Christmas break.

Naturally, I was over the moon.  That Christmas I rode the bus up to see him, and we had a lovely talk, sitting in the library, about poetry and my plans.  He was as generous and amazing as you'd expect him to be, if you know his work.  I don't remember everything he told me, but I remember he told me to keep writing, and that he treated me as a real writer.  As an undergrad, that meant everything to me.  

After he died, one of the poems published posthumously was about that day in the library.  I don't know, of course, that this poem is about me, but I think it's a pretty safe bet.  Here it is:

Emily, This Place, and You

She got out of the car here one day,
and it was snowing a little. She could see
little glimpses of those mountains, and away down
there by the river the curtain of snow would
shift, and those deep secret places looked
all the more mysterious.  It was quiet, you know.

Her life seemed quiet, too.  There had been troubles,
sure—everyone has some. But now, looking out there,
she felt easy, at home in the world—maybe like
a casual snowflake.  And some people loved her.
She would remember that.  And remember this place.

As you will, wherever you go after this day,
just a stop by the road, and a glimpse of someone’s life,
and your own, too, how you can look out any time,
just being part of things, getting used to being a person,
taking it easy, you know.

                                                            William Stafford, The Way It Is

Of course I deeply treasure this poem.  And feel so blessed that even after his death Stafford has continued to give to us in so many ways.  And this experience, miracle that it is, has given me the courage to send my book to Terry.  Who knows?  Maybe someday we'll sit in a library together, and talk about writing.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Melting Clocks at AWP

I just got an email from a writer friend from Wisconsin and he says:  "My lord, wasn't Chicago a bit surreal?"  That's maybe the perfect word for it.  How to even begin to parse such an experience?

If it was surreal, maybe a collage of images would work best:  walking along Wabash street, under the thundering El, headed back from a night of drinking with two writers.  Listening to Alison Hawthorne Deming teach us about creating poetry in our communities.  Reading poems to a packed room at the Chicago Cultural Center.  Asking two men, new friends, for their birth stories.  Sitting at the Salmon Poetry table with Patrick Hicks and finding out we both lived in the same college in Oxford, ten years apart.  Sitting exhausted on the floor with a sandwich, almost too tired to eat it.  Meeting the publisher of Salamander who published a poem of mine.  Buying a pair of sexy cowboy boots.  Falling asleep, every night, very late, to the vision of the Sears Tower, rising like mist outside my window.

It was incredibly rich, and deeply exhausting.   It's something to be in a hotel with 10,000 other writers.  Everywhere you go, someone is talking about meter or publishing or promotion on Facebook or quoting a line from a poem.  It's the only time in my life that I don't feel poetry is marginalized.  It's pretty heady.  I can't wait for next year.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Ready for AWP

One week from today I'll be in Chicago at the AWP conference.  I can't wait!  I go every other year and I just love this conference.  There's something incredibly intense and magical about 10,000 writers in one place at one time.

The first time I went to AWP was about 10 years ago.  I was living in Vancouver at teaching at UBC.  It was a good job, but very stressful in many ways.  I was surrounded by PhDs who had no idea what an MFA was, or what I did.  Inevitably I started to feel like the poor cousin (I remember one party where everyone sat around and traded obscure literary references; I just drank and got depressed).  The second year I was there AWP came to Vancouver, so I could afford to go.  I drove downtown to the fabulous hotel it was held in, and slipped into the first session.  And after just a few minutes I realized I had actually found the promised land.  Here they were speaking my language!  They knew all the writers I new and admired!  We were reading the same texts!  In the halls everyone was discussing metaphor and James Galvin and publishing houses. I was jubilant and so deeply relieved.  I spent as much time there the next three days as I possibly could and just reveled in it.  At that conference I also met my soon-to-be publisher Jessie.  We had already contracted for my book, but it hadn't come out yet.  It was also reassuring to meet her, to hear her talk about my work, and to meet one or two other "Salmon Poets."

Since that time I've been to two more conferences--one in New York City (epic) and one in Denver.  Each time I go, the conference energizes me and each time it's different.  In Denver, two years ago, I started really getting to know other Salmon poets and making contacts with other writers.  Since then, and through Facebook, I've been able to really get to know some amazing writers.  I now swap work with some of them; two of the writers I met in Denver read my manuscript for this latest book.  What a gift that has been.

And this time, as I prepare to go, I feel even more intimately connected with this group of fellows.  I have plans to have a drink with a former college professor who is responsible for setting me on my life course.  There is an "Alaska Night" planned for all Alaskan writers and editors.  And I'll be giving two readings alongside fellow Salmon poets of our new work.  It seems like a miracle to me that I'm getting pulled into this community of writers.  

And of course, I'm going to get to see some fabulous writers talk about and read their work.  In Denver I saw Terry Tempest Williams read and met Robert Hass.  In New York Ha Jin signed a  copy of his book.  Nothing like a little star-gazing to warm up a cold February.

So, T-minus 6 days and I'll be off, black notebook and pens in hand, conference booklet marked up with all the sessions I want to attend, and my literary dancing shoes on.  Huzzah!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Preview, Part 1

I thought it might be fun this week (and maybe in subsequent weeks) to post a poem from the book alongside a photo from our days of living aboard Iona. And since it's Valentine's Day, this one seemed appropriate....

Winter Nights

We furl tightly against
each other in the v-berth,

our breath forming ice
on the hatch above our heads;

five blankets and quilts
pile on top of us, and still our toes

lying in the v of the bow,
are cold.

I bury my nose between
your shoulder blades, and dream

we are entering the world
for the first time, our feet

slicing through layers
of water, of womb.  But this time,

we enter it together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grant Writing Anxiety

So, grant writing.  It always seems tougher than it should be, doesn't it?  This month I'm working on writing a grant and as always it's catching me up short with its complexity.  It's not so much the requirements or length--those are fairly easy.  It's just the idea and challenge of explaining "clearly and concisely" the work I do, and why it matters to me.

Those are good questions, of course, and I love that grants are based on work samples and on our artistic statements, but it's such an odd process (for me anyway) to write like this.  How do I explain why my writing matters to me in 250 words?  How do I sum up my artistic style in even fewer?  I feel like there are a hundred different answers to those questions.  It depends on what project I'm thinking about, on whether we're talking about past, present, or future work--what my mood is that day, even.  And of course at the back of all of this, is the question--what do they want to hear?  What will make them say yes, let's give this girl some cash?

Ok, that sounds like complaining.  I don't mean it to be.  I like the challenge of it, but it's also brought me up short a little bit.  What's the right answer?  I know that's the good kid in me panicking at an upcoming test, and I'm trying to banish her to the back forty.  I know of course that there's no right answer.  But there are smart answers, and clever ones, and engaging ones, and poetic ones, and also bland, trite, alarming, and frankly boring ones.  Perhaps that's at the heart of this anxiety--it's another judgement on me and my work.  

Back when I dreamed of being a writer (oh, the carefree college years) I assumed that having a book come out would be pure bliss.  And of course it's wonderful in so many ways.  But as soon as it's in the first person's hands, then the stress of wondering do they like it?  did I get it right? happens.  A few times at readings people have come up to me and said, so, I read your book.  And left it at that.  That's always kind of a weird moment for me.  And? I want to ask.  But I usually don't.  Instead, I say thank you, letting the polite good girl back into the game.  Inside I'm dying to ask--tell me!  Was it any good??  

And that's the real question behind all this grant writing, this summing up, explaining, elucidating.  Is my work any good?  Is it worth me continuing?  I will keep writing, regardless of the answer, but it would be so lovely to hear yes.  Yes, we loved it.