Roundup: Conversations and Collaborations Among Writers

As we launch a new blog format for the new year, we’re also looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. Our roundups explore the archives and gather past posts around a certain theme to help you jump-start your week. This week we have posts on conversations and collaborations among writers.

Much has been professed about the nature of writers – that they are solitary creatures, or instead, ones that require community to fuel their work. Of course, there isn’t a definitive answer, and many writers are both. So let’s not generalize. As the great Mark Twain once put it, “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

Please enjoy these posts about writers connecting with other writers:

  • In this post, Alicia Jo Rabins explores the advantages of writers forming a creative partnership in Torah study, a “form of obsessive, passionate relation with words and meaning,” where it’s common to work in pairs.

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Roundup: Finding Time and Space to Write

As we look forward to updating the Ploughshares blog for the new year, we’re also looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009.  Our roundups explore the archives and gather past posts around a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.  This week we have posts on finding time and space to write.

Some writers have the luxury of structuring their lives around writing, but most of us are juggling a combination of work, classes, family, and everyday tasks like laundry and taking out the garbage.  Our guest bloggers are here to help with advice on finding time and space to write.

  • If you prefer to listen to music while you write, you might appreciate Michael Klein’s post “Music to Write By.”
  • Finally, if you are someone who works best with a deadline, then you might be interested in National Novel Writing Month.  The challenge, to write 50,000 words in November, is a great excuse to sit down at your desk and work.

Image – Flickr: Nick in exsilio

 

I Know How it Ends

In 1988, the only thing that was happening in my life was A.A. and people with AIDS. I was living with an architect in a loft in Brooklyn that had once been a picture frame factory still trying to figure out what to write now that I was coming out of a coma that had been my drinking life. I was afraid to write anything out of this new thinking because my only subject in those early days of not drinking was, well, not drinking, and gratitude for living and I couldn’t find the prose for gratitude that hadn’t been laced with syrup.

So I read: poetry, mostly, because early sobriety messes with your attention span (you basically have none), and poems were short. I also always sort of knew what poems were talking about and they usually inspired me to write. Once inside poetry, I wanted to read poems that turned to AIDS because my beauty aesthetic (which hadn’t been flattened by booze) knew that one of the tasks of a poem was to make something lyrical out of something horrible. Everything felt like I was reading myself back into being a writer.

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5 for Tony Leuzzi

I met Tony Leuzzi a couple of years ago when he came to interview me for the Lambda Literary website and our mutual passion for poets and poetry bonded us immediately. In our interview, Tony asked hard questions about what it means to be engaged with the continual elusiveness of the creative process and why poetry in particular. In other words, he was smart about my work. Boa Editions, the great small press in Rochester, NY, is bringing out a collection of Tony’s interviews (Passwords Primeval: 20 American Poets in Their Own Words) in November and for the occasion, I thought we would change places and I would ask him the questions.

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Goddard College: Talking with Writers about Teaching (Part 2)

My friends and colleagues Darcey Steinke and Douglas A. Martin and I all got together one afternoon during a break from the Goddard College MFA low-residency program where we all teach to talk about the MFA degree in general, what we feel is different about Goddard and  how teaching one-on-one informs us as writers and teachers. Our first and longer video, posted last week, deals with letter writing, writing as community, classroom vs. the worldroom and doing what you’re good at as a writer. This video delves into working with students, hybrid texts, and our mutual love for Denis Johnson.

The video was made in the cottage at Goddard, which used to be the President’s quarters and now serves as housing for the faculty and guests during residency sessions. It was, of course, very hot that day and we put seltzer and figs and cheese and crackers on the table which none of us, I don’t think, ever took.

Bios:

Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere (Bloomsbury 2007, New York Times Notable) and the novels, Milk (Bloomsbury 2005), Jesus Saves (Grove/Atlantic, 1997), Suicide Blonde (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992), and Up Through the Water (Doubleday, 1989, New York Times Notable). With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited (Little, Brown 1997). Her books have been translated into ten languages. Her novel Milk was translated into French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Nonfiction has appeared, among other places, in The New York Times MagazineThe Boston ReviewVogueSpin MagazineWashington PostChicago Tribune, and the Guardian (London). Her web-story “Blindspot” was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, and has taught most recently at Columbia School of the Arts and Barnard College.

Douglas A. Martin is the author of three novels, most recently Once You Back (Seven Stories Press). Other books include: They Change the Subject, stories;Your Body Figured, a lyric narrative, and In the Time of Assignments, poems.

 

Goddard College: Talking with Writers about Teaching (Part 1)

Post by guest-blogger Michael Klein.

My friends and colleagues Darcey Steinke and Douglas A. Martin and I all got together one afternoon during a break from the Goddard College MFA low-residency program where we all teach to talk about the MFA degree in general, what we feel is different about Goddard and  how teaching one-on-one informs us as writers and teachers. Our first and longer video deals with letter writing, writing as community, classroom vs. the worldroom and doing what you’re good at as a writer. The second video, to be posted next week, delves into working with students, hybrid texts, and our mutual love for Denis Johnson.

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5 for Carl Phillips

Carl Phillips

When the poet Alan Dugan was alive, there used to be a reading every summer in Wellfleet at the local library where members of his workshop would read their poems to, mostly, locals.  It was a generous thing of Alan to do, and also something rare – seeing poets sharing their work in obstensibly the early phase of their careers – assuming those summer writers were going to stick with poetry.  Marie Howe and I went one summer in the barely nineties – I forget the years, as I forget many years – exact years – and listened to each poet read his work or her work and after someone named Carl Phillips (to my knowledge he had never published a poem at this point) got up and read, Marie and I looked at each other and said, “wow … that was the real thing”.  And Carl was the real thing, even then, in his summer of Alan Dugan. He has, after all these years, continued being that real thing – a poet who has written many books of poems in an astonishingly short period of time.  We talked about his new book “Double Shadow”, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and winner of this year’s LA Times Book Prize.

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The Word I Couldn’t Leave

I didn’t know how obsessed I was with the world – with the actual word world – until I went through my last book of poems and saw that I used the word at least 30 times.  Actually, another poet told me I used it 30 times but of course I went back and counted the words myself (because they were my words) to see if this was true.  I’d never done anything like that – count how many times a word got used.  I wonder if other poets do this?

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Interview with Tracy K. Smith – “Poets are Lucky”

Tracy K. Smith

I met Tracy K. Smith a couple of weeks before she won the Pulitzer Prize for her terrific and completely ravishing new book, Life on Mars.  We were at a book party for Stephen Motika and his lovely new book, Western Practice – a loft somewhere downtown, in the rain, owned by people I didn’t know.  Tracy came over to tell me what a great speaking voice I had (aside from being raspy and constantly compared to Harvey Fierstein and Wolfman Jack, it is also pretty loud) which is not always the best opening line – except that in Tracy’s case, the speaking voice at large was a subject quickly abandoned for the more important subjects of writing, teaching and other poets we both know and love.

Life on Mars is a book about a world real and a world imagined and, at times, a kind of world ecstatically hoped for.  And so, my questions for Tracy really had to do with how she managed to take on those worlds in such a simple and intimate way and how, in the end, such a balancing act is a vocation the poet is – when the wind is right – uniquely qualified for.

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