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Craft of Writing

“Don’t be afraid to get really strange,” my dad told me several summers ago, while helping edit my first novel. “You can always scale back later.”

As always, I took his advice to heart. For, as a writer and creative writing professor, Dad’s editorial input was invaluable.

These would be his last words of advice to me about writing.

Dad, along with our actress mom, raised my sister and me in sleepy Midwestern towns, enlivened with magical bedtime books, such as Thomas...

My essay, "Rays," appears in the 301.2, Spring 2016, issue of North American Review. I'm particularly happy about the publication of this personal narrative. "Rays" affirms my hope that the prose I'm most proud of might also have value to others. This piece inspired me to write more creative-nonfiction and inevitably led to my book-length collection, Harbors,...

I began “Ullage” one morning—almost all of my poems are written between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.—in a darkened room, in a 250-page notebook I bought (one of several) at a paper store in Florence called Tassotti (sadly no longer there), a company founded by Giorgio Tassotti in Bassano del Grappa (Northern Italy) in 1957, having taken over the business from a firm called Remondini (flourished from 1657 to 1861). I had charged myself each morning to write, and if a poem appeared on the page at the...

We who are poets know that the reason for a poem is not disclosed until after the poem exists.

                                          —Thomas Merton


You will not remember me.

And I will not remember...

“As if the world were not what we make it, pulled by dogs down streets so dark, the sound of a river is almost a kind of light.” Let me be clear, I lifted this line from George Looney’s Animals Housed in the Pleasures of the Flesh nearly two decades ago, and I’ve been carrying it around with me ever since. The sentiments in this verse form currents, of course, in much of my writing. Primarily, my...

The artist who is nourishing hau is not self-aggrandizing, self-assertive, or self-conscious, he is rather, self-squandering, self-abnegating, self-forgetful—all the marks of the creative temperament the bourgeoisie find so amusing. (hau: a Maori word meaning spirit, particularly the spirit of the gift and of the forest, which gives all food.)

-Lewis Hyde: ...

When I give a poetry reading, I usually try to wear something bright. I will wear my sweater featuring kissing penguins or a sundress with hot air balloons on it. I do this not because I want to look like the poet version of Zooey Deschanel, but because people usually approach me afterwards looking like they want to tuck a Zoloft prescription into my hands, and they all ask the same question: “Are you okay?” And I get it. I do. I write about heartbreak and death and proselytize the Gospel of...

With the earthiness of mushrooms, black pepper, unsweetened cocoa, and ground coffee, these darkly delicious “Doom Cakes” will help you access the duende of any experience. For me, the culinary experimentation that resulted in this wicked concoction was directly related to Strauss’s Zarathustra, Kubrick’s 2001, the 9...

It’s a problem most writers face. But the danger seems particularly acute for nonfiction writers who are accountable to real people, even when names are changed. How do you tell the story you set out to tell? Or, put slightly differently, how do you tell the story that is yours to tell? In my case, I had to write the wrong story to find the right story.

My essay “On Reading,” which appears in the NAR fall 2015...

Coat Rack

“Every word was once a poem”[1]. Every poem was once an experiment. I’m a pragmatic man. I’m a test pilot flying a fountain pen. Testing the limits of honesty[2]. I was going to begin by saying “watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat” but that’s the sort of malarkey I’m trying to avoid, the stiff collar, cleverness of prose (should I apologize?).

There’s a theory that professes honesty is a requirement of writing. Poppycock! I’m being impetuous. I’ll test this theory with three...


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