Wednesday, November 12, 2008

FSPA Keynote, "Poeticus Interruptus," Part 2 of 5

Poeticus Interruptus
(or: Is that a poem in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?)
Keynote at the Florida State Poets Association Convention (theme: "A poem in your pocket"), 18 October 2008, Part 2 of 5

FSPA Keynote, "Poeticus Interruptus," Pt. 2
FSPA Keynote, "Poe...
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Okay. That's one minute. And because the title of this talk is "Poeticus Interruptus," I want you all to feel free to write any thought, any inspiration that comes to you while I'm standing up here talking. I assure you I won't think it's rude.

At Readercon I sat in on a panel, and one person said something that sparked an idea in me, so I whipped out my notebook and scribbled some very disjointed notes for a potential story idea, whether or not that idea ends up going anywhere. Because

Nothing Is Wasted

Think on that for a minute. Nothing is wasted. All the could'as, would'as, should'as -- all the blind alleys and wrong turns, all the mistakes, all the screw-ups, all the setbacks -- those are valuable. Everything is potential material to draw from. Every shackle holding a person down has enormous potential to be turned around and used. And in that use comes freedom.

All the times when you didn't write and wished you could? That's not wasted, either. All that frustration has tremendous emotional force. It can be like the magma that's rebuilding the dome over at Mt. St. Helens even as I speak. Nothing may have erupted yet, but … it's comin'.

Sometimes the literal volcano can be a source of inspiration. I wrote "Sanctuary, Mount St. Helens" after visiting the site a year after its 1980 eruption:

Sanctuary, Mount St. Helens

The softened grey plain under my feet
tames roaring magma. I sink gently,
in a free-fall
of weights made light
and unfamiliar,
buoyed in a slate tide,
poured in volcanic stasis.

The dull floor etches my footprints
in shattered glass, on a field
with no vanishing point --
and all around me
chipped, denuded peaks
change distance,
edge upon stark edge.

Today I must trust this mountain,
stepping carefully on muffled ground
cued to tremors, murmurs, the silence
of halted growth. A timid fern
curls around a dead, twisted birch woven
in a tangle of birches.
Wild greens lay their thin stalks
over macrames of charred wood
in gauzed lava, shaded
neither wholly black,
nor wholly white.

At any time, the earth might shake
and sway, sifting centuries of dust,
tripping young deer, swallowing pumice and wildflower,
and the air crackle with sirens
echoing like birds off the mountain face, or caught
in the hollowed bones of melting rock.
Below me are pulverized graves, layers
of life and death and
life again.
I hold my breath
to read quick
cryptic traces of seismic thoughts.

And if I stare outward long enough,
I can see new shoots from a simpler age
rise, reborn and ancient
out of motionless ash.

In her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron uses Morning Pages as a way to clear space for creativity to emerge. Morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: "Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah ..."

Cameron calls them "brain drain," and there is no wrong way to do them. She writes,

"All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover's eye -- this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page. ...

"Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn't really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that everything you're doing is just plain junk. The morning pages will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write. ...

"Three pages of whatever crosses your mind -- that's all there is to it. If you can't think of anything to write, then write, 'I can't think of anything to write...' Do this until you have filled three pages. Do anything until you have filled three pages."

Cameron continues:

"When people ask, 'Why do we write morning pages?' I joke, 'To get to the other side.' They think I am kidding, but I'm not. Morning pages do get us to the other side: the other side of our fear, of our negativity, of our moods. Above all, they get us beyond our Censor."

Again, that was Julia Cameron from The Artist's Way.

I tell my students to carry a notebook with them, because you never know when an idea will hit. The notebook I carry with me has much more than ideas. Parts of it are thoroughly banal, like "to do" lists. Parts of it are primal screams. Parts are ideas thrown helter-skelter on the page. Parts are overheard conversations and quotes, like Swanwick's. My journal notebook is my version of morning pages.

Writing ideas and impressions down are like remembering dreams -- if I make a conscious effort to remember and write down my dreams, it opens up a door inside, so that I remember dreams more easily. It's like exercising a muscle. Keeping a journal exercises the muscles of perception, imagination, and emotion, and like anything else those muscles strengthen with practice.

On the particular Saturday when I wrote this section of this talk, I got online and zapped over to the Sunday Scribblings collective blog. Sunday Scribblings provides weekly prompts -- if you have a blog, you can write to the prompt and then link back to the Sunday Scribblings entry. The site is maintained by Meg Genge and Laini Taylor, and the prompt I came across on that Saturday was "Ghosts."

Meg and Laini wrote, "Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one? How about this: If you were a ghost, how would you spend your time?"

I'm floating my options
through the wall,
making those hard, incorporeal choices,
the ones that never take solid form.

The ones that haunt,
just out of reach.
Dead ideas making mischief.
The life not taken.

That little drafty poem came to me immediately as I sat in my nightshirt in room 745 at the Burlington Marriott outside of Boston. It's a ghost of a poem, fresh off the tips of my fingers. I don't consider its merits because that's not what's important right now. It's a poem in my pocket -- or, in this case, on my computer screen. Because poems are everywhere.

Part 3

Covenant, the first volume in the Deviations Series, is available from Aisling Press, and from AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Territory, Borders,,,, DEAstore,,,,, Powell's Books, and Target. Deviations: Appetite is forthcoming. The Deviations page has additional details.


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