Writing Prompt: Feeling Confined? Write About It!

Confinement has become a way of life for many of us without so-called “mission critical” jobs.  Those of us who can work from home are doing so, and while I initially thought working from home (on more than a one-day-a-week basis) would be great for my writing, I find that I’m spending a lot of time worrying about Coronavirus—for my family, my students, the country—and this worry is a killer on creativity.

I thought some of you might be in the same boat, so I came up a writing prompt that might help you generate some ideas and write something new.

Steps:

  1. List 10-20 objects that are “confined” in some way.  They can be temporarily confined, or confined long-term.  (Some examples I can think of right off the bat:  my cat is confined in my arms like a baby; a fish is confined in its bowl; a turtle in its shell; a letter in its envelope; our internal organs by our skin, etc.)
  2. Choose three to five you like the best and describe how the objects are confined. What is keeping them from escaping their captivity?  You can be literal here or you can lean towards the fantastic.  (In the case of my cat, what’s keeping her in my arms is the hope for many, many neck scritches and angel kisses.  Also keeping her from escaping:    Once she sits down, she’s there for the duration.)
  3. Determine the object’s “liberation quotient”—that is, how likely could it be freed from its confinement? What would it take for it to be liberated?  Is it just someone takes the letter out of the envelope, or is the process more involved?  What is an unexpected way the object could be liberated?  Does it want to be liberated?  How do you know?
  4. Find your connection. Think about your own confinement in terms of the three objects you explored. How is your experience of confinement similar or dissimilar from that of the objects?  What resonances do you find?
  5. Read over the notes you’ve made, jot down any additional thoughts, and write a three-to-five part poem, flash fiction, flash nonfiction piece (one part for each object) that uses these images in a creative way to explore our (or our character’s) relationship to confinement.

I’d love to read what you came up with, so feel free to post your piece in the comments field!

Re-centering

Right now, with the Corona Virus going on, it’s hard to think about anything besides that people are dying and the only thing we can really do is socially isolate ourselves and wash our hands to the Alphabet Song (or Happy Birthday, twice).  But while that is true, it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of what makes us us—whatever it is that makes us feel humanity, we should try to continue to do it, even as we make health and safety of ourselves and others a priority.

For me, that’s writing. The last few months at work, I was putting sometimes 50-60 hours a week trying to get everything done, and unfortunately, what had to give was my writing.  I was just too tired to work on poems, after I had been in the salt mines, and I realize now that more than just what I thought I lost (some sanity and true connection to my inner world), I temporarily lost some of my humanity.  Not surprising, when you become an automaton for work.  But not writing—not connecting—contributed to my anxiety and worsened my already pretty heavy depression, and frankly, no job is worth that.

I am sorry that it’s come down to a pandemic to allow me to write again—but I also feel better for the first time in several months.  I’ve been writing, revising, and sending out poems to journals, and it feels like me again, a re-centering.  Usually, the nudge that AWP provides in the Spring also helps my productivity, but this year the Ed. decided (rightly) that we should probably forego AWP since both of us tend to be immunocompromised. (Everyone knows all you have to do is sneeze my way and I pick up a respiratory infection.)  But it was hard, not getting to chat with writers I know as well as visiting with the people tabling in the Book Fair. The energy from that is so motivating.  So, I’ve just been reading the journals that have stacked up around my house, and I’ve been combing Submittable’s Discover tab, looking for new journals to explore and possibly to submit to.  And, I’m finally connecting to the project I’ve been batting around in my head for months, and that feels good too.

In related news, I’m looking forward to my official release date for What Magick May Not Alter, which is April 17th.  So, that makes my book an Aries (and you know how Aries and Taurus don’t mix too well 😊).  But I’m excited for my book to be out in the world.  I’ve sent ARCs out to several people, with the hope that they would kindly write a review, no matter their opinion.  I know for a fact that one person has written one—she’s just waiting to share it a little closer to its birthday.  And another person is in the process of making a YouTube review and told me that he “damn near couldn’t put it down,” so that is great news. I’m still looking for some readers/ reviewers, so if anyone is interested, please let me know and let’s figure out how we can get a copy of What Magick May Not Alter in your hands!

I know this was a short post—I’ll try to do better than write one post a year!  Maybe I’ll even get back to my Wednesday posts, who knows?  Until then, be safe, sequester yourself, and wash your hands. And if you believe, pray.

Where will it take me/ what shall I do?*

long island surf

Image from the NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

During these falling and ebbing tides, a riptide can carry a person far offshore. For example, the ebbing tide at Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton, New York, extends more than 300 metres (980 ft) offshore.

–from Wikipedia

Now they tell me.

After I was swept out to sea on a rip current in Southampton, NY (yes, it was as scary as it sounds), the first thing anyone said to me at the writer’s conference (after “Oh My God!”) was “Write about it.”

I’m now two weeks past my fight with the ocean (where the ocean almost won), and I still don’t know what to say about the experience. Not really. I keep thinking I need to process it, but writers generally process things by writing about them.  Perhaps language is stronger than a nine-foot wave?

But that nine-foot wave that began my ordeal is all I can focus on.  I keep seeing it and remembering how instead of trying to swim through it, I turned around and tried to run from it, taking the full force of its power that knocked me over and began to drag me away from shore, filling my mouth and eyes with sand and salt and something viney, maybe kelp.

It’s that gray-green wave I keep seeing when I close my eyes, that creeps into my dreams and pulls me away from everything I know, making figures indistinct, small, if I can recognize them at all.  I am looking for new language to describe this feeling, but it’s as if the gray-green wave is pulling me towards every cliché you’ve ever heard about drowning—drowning in self-pity, drowning one’s sorrows, this drowning woman grasping at straws, etc.  Nothing seems real to me, but that gray-green wave.

And yet, the weird thing is, the fear and doom I feel now is all after-the-fact.  When I was in the moment, gasping for air and feeling helpless but trying to fight my way out of that current, fear and doom were not what I was thinking about.  I never thought, You’re going to die. Instead, I was angry.

Maybe that was adrenalin at work, my way of not losing my head—by focusing on my anger. Anger because misgivings about the waves had troubled me before I went in—I even wrote about them in my notebook while I watched the water.  Anger that I didn’t listen to my gut which said, Don’t do this, don’t go in, even between the safety flags. Anger for knowing how to swim well, and yet not being able to right myself and break free from the tumbling surf.  There is a kind clarity in anger, I suppose, and I was level-headed enough to quit struggling and to take the blessed hands that wound up hauling me to shore.

But now that wave haunts me, even four hours inland.  I didn’t go back to the beach after that day—I couldn’t.  I didn’t even want to see the water again—which is irrational and yet somehow petulant, as if the ocean betrayed me—who loves the ocean beyond most things (except cats, my mother, and Jesus)—when I’m the one who betrayed my own good sense to stay safe.

*****

I am looking at Google Maps of Coopers Beach, and from overhead the beach looks like nothing special, and the crests on the waves hardly as imposing as an eyelash.  Perhaps someday I will be able to view the experience through the transformative lens of art, and write the poems that I am meant to write about it.  For now, I think I will just end this post here—without details, without a timeline, without anything beyond the memory of that nine-foot gray-green wave.

 

*Lyric from Robert Palmer’s song “Riptide”

Solstice

Long beach postcard 1910

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Sunset tonight is technically 8:51 p.m., but of course it will still be light out closer to 10 (for a total of 14 hours and 24 minutes of sunshine).  It’s the kind of day I could imagine myself being out by the ocean for as long as possible—you know, if Atlanta was on the coast.  Which alas, it is not.

I simultaneously love and hate this day—I love it because it’s high summer and there’s something interesting about the sun being out as I’m (supposed to be) readying myself for sleep.  But I also hate it because it means the days will now get progressively shorter, creeping as they do towards the fall and a new school term.  (I’ve had this love-hate thing with the day since I was little.)

Anyway, here is a poem I wrote several years ago commemorating the summer solstice.  Initially I planned to write something New Agey and mystical—but then I defaulted to funny.  This poem has always been one of my favorites, and it always makes me laugh.

Solstice

Tonight is the shortest of the year,
not enough time to break into Mr. Next Door’s
shed and rearrange his tools,
hide the scotch he keeps on a ledge
beside the coiled snake of orange power cord,
let the air out of the tires of his ’87 Impala,
fray his collection of ropes,
steal the front wheel of his Schwinn
and replace it with a stale doughnut,
spill turpentine into his jug of marbles,
stuff his sleeping bag with twigs and old leaves,
or tangle his fishing wire into knots
not even the navy knows about.
Tomorrow, the night is two minutes longer.

 

If you like this poem, you might like the others in my collection, La Petite Mort.

Some New Things Out

fat ladies coney island

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s June, which means I’m hip deep in my annual summer doldrums, and not feeling particularly writerly—an unfortunate circumstance, because with things a little on the quieter side (not teaching summer classes, for instance), you’d think I’d be writing up a storm.

Alas, I’m too undone, wishing I was anywhere but in Atlanta (like these great ladies in this stereograph of Coney Island), and I’m so anguished about our current immigrant crisis (and general Washington, D.C. chaos) I can’t even really focus enough to write anyway.  I keep telling myself just hang on until the middle of July—which is when I’ll go away for a couple of weeks to the coast and hopefully rejuvenate my flagging spirit, but that’s still so far away.  Meanwhile, I’m melting into the pavement—and worrying about what new horror will assail us in the next hour of the news cycle.

Anyway, existential poor-me’s aside, I have a couple of poems/ nonfictions (depending on what you call them…I like to think of them as “poemeditations”) in the most recent issue (2017/2018) of Grubb Street.  (Scroll through the online journal to p. 3 and 4.)  These are more from my Venice collection, which will someday find a home, I hope.

And I’ve got five poems in the July issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Actually, it turns out these poems were supposed to come out in last November’s issue, but somehow there was a snafu and the submission disappeared (on their end) in Submittable.  It was lucky I followed up with Dead Mule, because the editor was mystified at how the poems had gone astray, but she was great and fixed it and now the poems are there for you to read.

If you like my work, feel free to leave a comment.  If you don’t, leave a comment anyway, and give me something else to brood about.

 

 

New Poem Up at Picaroon Poetry

picaroon-poetry-issue-9“Canali” is another one of my Venice poems, and I was so happy when Picaroon Poetry took it.  (You have to scroll through to page 35 to read it.) This brings my published Venice poem total up to 13 out of 22, or a 59% published rating.

You may wonder why I offer that metric—who cares?  But I share it because collections these days seem to list so many previously published poems on their respective acknowledgments pages—and manuscripts with multiply “vetted” poems seem to have a better chance of becoming books.  I know for a fact that some book publishers say that writers shouldn’t even submit a book to them for consideration unless 25% of the poems in the collection have been published already.  So my hope is, that with a 59% (or more) published rating, my chapbook will someday find a home. (I still have the rest of the poems from the chapbook out circulating, and hope that a few more will “land.”)

Of course, my full collection is 23% published, and it’s still homeless.  Which just goes to prove publishing will always be a crapshoot. *sob*

How the Moon Became a Poem

Storm Moon photo

In Tuesday’s mail came the May 2017 issue of POEM.  POEM is a journal of the Huntsville Literary Association, and has been continuously published since 1967—fifty years. They publish perfect little poems—the journal itself is not quite 5”x7”—and I had submitted a pack of poems to them just to say I tried.

So when I got the acceptance last year, I was thrilled—especially because it was one of the Moon Poems from my narrative manuscript (you know, the one I’ve submitted like 50 places).  The Moon Poems, with maybe two exceptions, are “perfect little” 15-line lyrics, that appear throughout the manuscript and (at least in my mind anyway), represent the poetic output of one of the main characters, thought the voice in this particular poem is Vidalia’s, not Tallulah’s.

I’ve been trying to remember what initiated my interest in writing the Moon Poems.  While it may be true that I wanted to demonstrate a range of my writing ability (that I can write something other than narrative), it seemed important to incorporate the moon almost as a character in the manuscript, especially as it is about witches and women who harness energy and strength from the moon in order to enact their spells.

The poems each take as their title one of the (many) colloquial/ northern Algonquin names for each month’s full moon—though the February full moon is technically the “Snow Moon”—but of course, there’s no such thing as snow storms in February in Louisiana, but there is rain, so I fudged a little, and made the poem “Storm.” (Actually, this poem could also represent July—which is the month of  the “Thunder Moon” as well as “Buck Moon” but I believe I meant it for February.  But the word “thunder” appears in the poem itself…maybe the connection to February is wrong?)  As I think about it, February actually has two poems in the manuscript, this one and “Hunger Moon.” Anyway, writing about the moon felt authentic to me, and authentic to the experience of all the women characters in the manuscript.  (Not surprising—as Marge Piercy reminds us, “The Moon Is Always Female.”)

With this publication, the total number of poems in the manuscript that have been published in journals comes to 11—when the manuscript is 83 poems, my publication rate looks feeble, a mere 13%.  But it has been difficult to publish poems from this collection because it’s narrative (the Moon Poems not withstanding), and they are interdependent, and how do you take individual poems which all contribute to a story out of their milieu and make them make sense as stand-alones?

I’d very much like to have at least 20 poems from this collection published—that seems like a reasonable goal—then I would feel like maybe the manuscript would finally have a chance.  And getting the rest of the Moon Poems published might be the way to accomplish that goal.

On the other hand, there is still the other idea I have been kicking around in my head…taking out the line breaks in nearly all of the manuscript poems (except the Moon Poems), and trying to get it published as a hybrid flash fiction/poetry work.  So far I’m not that desperate—I mean, I conceived the book as poetry, and would hate to lose the beauty of well-wrought-lines, so I’m going to hold out the hope until I get the next batch of manuscript rejections that it will get published as the verse novel it is.

But the line break removal thing is still a possibility… because it has worked for me before, transforming what I thought were poems into flash fiction and flash nonfiction—or rather, perhaps the conversion process only revealed what their true form meant them to be.  And in many cases, these erstwhile poems found homes in journals like right away.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy “Storm Moon.”  Let me know what you think.