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Craft of Writing

Illustration by Matt Manley

Ideas for a project beyond survival

A friend says my picture looks like I am throwing a dazzling parade of ideas. I don’t have any ideas for a project beyond survival. This is from a project I am calling Survival. What am I currently working on? I am currently working on not getting sick/fired/overdrafted/divorced. I am currently working on forms and checks, not forgetting fucking milk. I am currently fixing the broken chain-link fence out back. I stand up in front of an audience and...

I do not mean to come off as overly idealistic. I can't feed, clothe, and provide compasses to all of the lost, broke, talented, and up-and-coming writers out there anymore than I can sustain myself. What I can do, however, is talk about submitting to literary journals from an empathetic standpoint, if only because for the last nine months I have done nothing but sit, write, workshop poems in a weekly group, and submit.

The past year has netted some great results. It has also netted...

Radar

When the bats tore from our attic through the dilute dusk,
we on the lawn watched them satisfy their summons,
the adults explaining natural radar, a human deafness
we would grow to accept. They rode like the sheets
on our pulleyed laundry line, parallel to the meadow,

lofted by a ditch of wind or my expectation
they drop down to us. This radar, we were told,
was like love, sponsoring naked, eggshelled wills
as they advance into...

When I received the invitation to post on the blog (my first), I’m ashamed to say that my initial reaction was one of horror. I quickly came to see that that reaction had something to do with why I write poetry. For me, poems are like little postcards thrust anonymously through the mail slots of people’s hearts. A little like valentines from a shy secret admirer. When I read a poem I really love, that touches me, I don’t want to know anything about the poet. I don’t want to hear him read. I...

Making "Territory"

There’s an entry in my diary from August 2014. I remember writing it. I was propped up on the bed of an old caravan I’d rented and which sat smack bang in the middle of a wildlife park in the Northern Territory, Australia, where I was researching for a novel about animals. The wildlife park housed thousands of captive native animals—crocodiles, endangered northern quolls, microbats. But wild animals had made their home there too. As I wrote in the diary, a wild barking owl “woofed” overhead...

Plane

Some poems percolate for decades, waiting to be born. My friend and baritone sax player Rick Countryman tells a story about working in a band that played behind an Elvis impersonator. When I heard this story, Rick and I were sharing a tumbledown house in Seattle that had no heat. In the winter, I’d open the stove and stand in front of it for warmth. This was the beginning of the presidencies of Reagan and then G.H.W Bush. Once I remember watching some African-American kids playing hoops. One...

Seventy years after the ten minute jury deliberation that sent him to the electric chair at age fourteen, George Stinney, Jr., was exonerated of the murders he had been convicted. When I read the story, I was, of course, deeply disturbed. Disturbed by the glaring injustice. Disturbed by the similarity to the circumstances surrounding the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner at the hands of law enforcement.

What upset me most, though, was the description of...

Michael Spence's poem, "The Unbroken Code" was an Honorable Mention in the 2009 James Hearst Poetry Prize from issue 294.2.

Note from the author: "The image of blackberry vines coming over the back fence and encroaching on the yard of a childhood home came to mind as I found myself writing a poem about my father. It occurred to me that his natural quietness was perfect for the kind of engineering design work he did for both the Space Program and various military projects. In my mind,...

My characters never write their endings. I feel exasperated when I hear writers say ‘the characters just took over and the story seemed to write itself’, as if the writing could be a glide through the first draft and revision, or maybe no revision. The length and the very nature of the short story, its economy, precision and mystery, suggests puzzle, conundrum, the prizing open of an oyster to find, not a pearl, but a live creature. Every story worth writing has at least one seemingly...

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