Craft of Writing
I am like the violin no one plays. In the attic
the wood grain’s varnish and veneer
lie with the other mistakes: the batik
banner, the beetle-eaten head of the mounted deer,
the stained cashmere sweater, and the odd love letter
not set on fire. Once you cradled the hourglass
figure, tucked-in your chin and fingered the strings and frets.
The embossed pebbled leather case with brass
hinges is lost; once you carried it back and...
A red car points west. Darkness, plush pine trees and a lemon slice of moon backlight it. A gas pump nudges the car’s rear bumper.
But it isn’t just any car. This car resembles a 1949 Mercury right out of the animated imaginations of the Fleischer brothers, the same kind of car (albeit a convertible) Batman drove in the second serial ...
I started writing poems the first time I read contemporary poetry, in seventh grade. That is when I remember thrilling to Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. Not Shakespeare or Tennyson or Poe with their antique diction and fair ladies—rather, a woman who spoke to me and who made me want to talk back. The germ of my new book, Windows and Doors: A Poet Reads Literary Theory, began, perhaps, four years after that, when the advisor of my high-school literary magazine suggested an addition...
Begin with the naming of things.
“Prairie,” from French via the Vulgar Latin
prataria and further back to the Latin pratum,
meaning “meadow.” And the mound itself,
called by geologists a roche mountonếe—
a bedrock knob shaped but not leveled
by the last Pleistocene glacier.
But long before these names, known to the Omaha,
Oto and Yankton Lakota as Paha Wakan,
On April 1, 2009—while driving to teach—I heard an NPR story about thousands of children stolen, just after birth, during Franco’s dictatorship. This was no April Fool’s joke. I listened to this broadcast and others that emerged over time. It was incredibly systematic: Parents were told their infant had died, the newborn was then sold to a more politically suitable family, the hospital offered to take care of “funeral plans”, birth records were destroyed. Of course, this news story...
One question I ask other writers is what sounds stimulate their writing––silence, electronica, mud pools, rain showers, foreign film soundtracks, a woman in the next room boiling water. This is because I have a particular kind of synesthesia, known as chromesthesia, in which many pieces of music I hear are twinned with distinct visual experiences. There are exceptions, and in those cases, the sounds can induce a full range of emotional responses with no visual complements. Occasionally,...
WAKE: WORLD, ARRIVED
Reality, divided into light and matter.
A moment travels from the universe’s birth.
A massless noun converts into light, then reverses.
This, the moment when the universe begins
to shine. Mother’s voice whispering by the crib,
brushing with my first series of particulars.
A probability turns true, tips and flashes
slicing the light into particles it daringly
hails through. Father, teaching me to...
I used to think that my task as a writer was to form a piece. To shape it. To give it any meaning and chance for beauty it might have by allowing paragraphs and a story arc to determine its direction.
But I was wrong. It was exactly the opposite. A piece of writing, in fact, often forms us. Our work shapes us, not the other way around. We need to return to our “finished” work as if it were a calibrated compass showing us where we ought to go....
Long ago, I became a collector of words and visual images, especially black-and-white photographs. I keep my journal with me at all times to record beautiful imagery, arresting details, and anything that makes me question life in a way that demands a story.
Below are selected steps from a prewriting journal exercise I designed to begin an original story using black-and-white photographs as creative inspiration.
I hope this exercise will be as fun and as...