Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Hate to Get Up in the Morning

I hate to get up and face the two miles I walk. I do it, did it, for the health of my heart. It has been six years, maybe seven, since I walked/jogged regularly. It has been almost six years since my heart surgery. I am healthy again and resumed walking while on vacation a little more than a month ago. WHAT HAS THIS TO DO WITH WRITING? Well-asked. Here's the answer: Directly, nothing.

Let me digress again, but less. My father-in-law died just before the above-mentioned vacation. This gave my mornings back to me, the times when I used to write. Unfortunately, I got into the habit of walking first thing in the morning and out of the habit of writing then. So, I just tried shifting my walking into the late afternoon, especially since I want to get up to five miles jogging (Thanksgiving Day road race in mind) and simply haven't the time early in the day.

THE POINT IS that I re-discovered the joy of getting up and writing versus the much lesser joy of getting up and walking. I like getting up to write and I have found the muse waiting for me, keeping the chair by the window warm. I will still walk/jog and I will still strive to do that road race just one more time. But I will enjoy the agony of writing each morning more than ever before.

I don't believe in writers block. I believe we are always collecting even if we're not writing. I do believe it is easy to get out of the habit of writing, out of the daily work writing requires and when that happens, we're not blocked but we are in trouble. I don't know what would have happened if my father-in-law had hung around long. Although I certainly wished him well and a long life, I cannot avoid the delight I feel in having my writing (life) back.

So long for now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Listening to yourself is not always fun

I remember the first time I heard a recording of my voice: I couldn't believe that was me. (I still don't.) But I've learned a couple of things.

1. Hearing your poems gives an entirely different and very valuable take on them

2. Reading them aloud and hearing them are essential exercises during revision

When the poem breaks down in the reading it probably breaks down in the meaning as well. Keep this in mind. One of the things I see is that the music of poetry is often neglected. Remember, it should sound nice. Poems are meant to be heard. The sound and the meaning should inform each other in a symbiotic relationship. Often you can identify where this relationship breaks down by hearing your poem read by another.

Hate those text-to-voice voices? So do I. However, use them. We cannot always find someone to read our poems to us and, frankly, we shouldn't want to. Voice to text programs are freely available online. I use Text2Speech and there are certainly other more sophisticated ones available, some requiring download. Text2Speech has a 5,000 character limit which is pretty generous.

Despite the machine-like quality of the voices, you can listen for those points at which the flow breaks down, weakens; and you may then check the poem for similar thematic weaknesses that may want attention.

So, listen to yourself if you can. This will help your readings. Also, listen to your words spoken by another person (a valuable asset of workshops) or by a machine. In any event the result will be a better poem.

So long for now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Go To Congress!

The Library of, actually. Now, there are lots of things governmental to bitch about and I'm at the head of the class in that all too frequently. It's all too easy to overlook the good and one of the goods is The Library of Congress website. You can get lost for days in there, longer if you want.

I particularly note, today, their list of poets reading from their own works. Note especially the external links list, the range covered. I don't know of a better list.

Outside of the academy I guess most of us hear poets at public readings. Sometimes we are favored with an invitation to a private reading. And, I'm not being harsh to say that dead poets don't read, to me anyway. The next best thing is to find recordings and the best way to do that is online. Listen and listen with text in hand as well.

Online you can replay the recording
, something the living reader will likely not permit. This is a valuable asset. When I attend a reading I particularly like listening without the text in hand or in mind. I want to hear the poem without prejudice. Then, I would like to hear it and read it at the same time. I cannot because I'm just not going to ask the reader to re-read. With the online reading I can have it both ways.

So, the spoken word is now being made available at a variety of sources and today I recommend The Library of Congress. Go thou and listen.

In the next blog some words about hearing your own poetry.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Poetry Readings, Part 2

Having trashed readings in the last post, I want to get into the readings I have enjoyed the most from the audience. They fall into two categories:

1. Those done by the best poets writing
2. Those with a theme, a plot if you will

Among the first I include readings by Charles Simic and Seamus Heaney. I might add Paul Muldoon and Adrienne Rich. These poets are the real deal. To be with them is to breathe rare air. You can exist on it for longer than twenty minutes and, for reasons I cannot explain, I think I could last ninety minutes listening to Simic.

Among the second I include two: Wesley McNair and Baron Wormser. I heard McNair read "My Brother Running" at The Frost Place and although some thought it too long, were bored by it, I was captivated. I have liked McNair for a long time and found the reading fulfilling, poignant. As for Wormser, I heard him read his scathing indictment of the more recent Bush presidency, "Carthage," in a private reading and, although I have heard him read several times, liked this the most because it did have a plot, movement from beginning to end. It held me.

So, there are readings that work. They are rare and you have to attend a lot of readings to find them. It helps to be lucky too. Additionally, despite my dyspeptic attitude, I do attend readings because that way I can support the writers who struggle honestly with this very demanding art. They deserve all I can give them.

So long for now.