CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.3: Featuring Kendall Dunkelberg – “Adapting a Traditional Form”

9781680030655In this post, I will discuss how I adapted a form for my new book, Barrier Island Suite. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my book is just out and because I am teaching a Forms in Poetry graduate class on free verse. Form doesn’t always happen in a vacuum, and a free-verse form is rarely completely free. When considering form for a project you’re writing, don’t automatically ignore existing forms and don’t feel you have to follow a form precisely either.

When writing the first poems for Barrier Island Suite, I wanted to find a form that would fit my subject, Walter Inglis Anderson, who often sketched and painted on Mississippi’s barrier islands. I wanted a form that would differ from what I usually wrote because I wanted the voice of these poems to be distinct from my own. Because Walter Anderson was influenced by Japanese art and because I had been teaching linked renga poetry in my World Literature classes, I felt it would be fun to try my hand at it.

Renga poetry, though, has many rules. Several poets get together to craft a poem of 100 stanzas, and there are specific kinds of images that must appear at certain points. I knew I could not approximate that, though the idea of poets in conversation felt appropriate since my poems would become a conversation with Walter Anderson through his art and the logs he wrote on the islands.

The basic stanza of renga begins with a haiku (and the haiku began as the opening stanza of renga): a stanza of three lines with 5, 7, and 5 syllables each. To this the next poet would add two lines of 7 syllables. The next poet would add another 3 lines, and so on. Each segment was supposed to go with the previous, though not necessarily with the one before that, so the poem would develop unpredictably, though the prescribed rules lent some order to the collaborative improvisation.

To approximate this, I chose to write 5-line stanzas with 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables. I felt the alternation between line lengths gave the poems a wave-like quality. To add some variety to the sequence, I sometimes chose to invert the stanza for a poem, beginning with two lines of seven syllables, and sometimes chose to separate the tercet from the couplet so there would be a stanza of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, then one of 7 and 7, which would repeat throughout the poem, ending in either a couple or a tercet.

The main point was that the poems had a form that lent them a consistent and meditative voice. The voice was not mine, and yet the form also helped me move away from Anderson’s voice in his logs or the voices of his biographers. What it has taught me is to be more open to existing forms and to be willing to adapt them to my own needs.

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13292796_10209677911485585_585701969_n ABOUT KENDALL: Kendall Dunkelberg directs the Low-Residency MFA in creative writing at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, where he also directs the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. Dunkelberg has published one collection of translated poems, written by the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus (Green Integer 2000), and three collections of poetry, Landscapes and Architectures (Florida Literary Foundation 2001), Time Capsules (Texas Review Press 2009), and Barrier Island Suite (Texas Review Press 2016).

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

PrettyRedShoes is now Love of Literary!

I’m happy and excited to share the news: I’ve rebranded the site formerly titled PrettyRedShoes, choosing Love of Literary as its new identity, which I think does a better job at conveying the site’s content and theme.

Love of Literary, just like PrettyRedShoes, is still interested in poetry, prose, pedagogy, and publishing. The site still finds its obsession in literary lives, literary voices, literary experiences, and literary locales. I also plan to continue the Red Soles Series (micro essays on craft, publishing, and teaching) under the title Craft of Literary, and I’m always looking for new submissions. For more info, click here.

Cheers to change, to growth, to new beginnings, and to all things literary!  ❤

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.2: Featuring Kevin Dwyer – “Defining the Writer’s Role as a Translator”

Francis Grose in his Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue (1811) defined translators as “sellers of old mended shoes and boots, between cobblers and shoemakers.”

Translation is not simply the transfer of texts from one language into another. It is a creative process, a process of negotiation between texts and between cultures, an act of liberation and harmonious renewal. Rainer Schulte, co-founder of the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), said: “If the writer’s activity could be called ‘creative,’ then the translator’s activity would be ‘re-creative.’ The translator’s emotional and interpretive involvement with the text is no less intense than the writer’s struggle with the blank page.”

It is this act of translation (the probing through dictionaries; the melodic transposing of sound and sense; the investing; the uncovering) that is useful for the creative writer. This activity demands the writer/translator to implement personal constraints, incase himself/herself with the culture of the text, and thereby render it new.

John Dryden, like numerous other theorist/writers of the eighteenth century, used the metaphor of the translator/portrait painter to maintain that the painter has the duty of making his portrait resemble the original. Considering this metaphor from a modern perspective, the degree of “literalness” in a translator’s rendering can range on a scale from “photo-realism” to “abstract.” Therefore, it shouldn’t seem too much of a leap to consider ekphrastic poetry a form of translation, where the writer renders the visual art into a tangible, literary medium. Or to understand how translation ties itself to Oulipian exercises, which use constraints as a means of triggering unique inspirations within the writer/translator, inducing him/her to craft something unexpected. Georges Perec, a member of Oulipa, said, “[when I write] I set myself rules in order to be totally free.” His novel La disparition is a lipogram, written without using the letter “e” in French. Eventually, Gilbert Adair published an English translation of the text entitled A Void, where he also constrained himself from using the letter “e”. In doing so, Adair created a different text from Perec: a transubstantiated version.

With every translation, no matter how “literal” or “abstract,” the writer/translator is filtering the original text through themselves. Therefore, every piece is unique, a re-birthing of the original.

I find translating comparable, in a way, to crafting a collage or putting a puzzle together. The pieces are given to you in a box, where you can sift through them and discover what fits together, what pairs well. However, these pieces are malleable. You can do what you like to them: bend, cut, color, etc. And you’re not enforced to their use alone. You can incorporate other pieces and objects from anywhere in the world. It is an investigative art project, where the goal is to produce what you find to be an “accurate” representation of the source material. Through this active process,  you will have filtered the source through your core, conceived something new. In the end, you will have become a rendering of your former self. 

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ABOUT KEVIN: Kevin Dwyer is a PhD Graduate Assistant focusing in poetry and a native of Hawthorne, NY. He earned his Honors BA from Saint Louis University and his MA with a focus in creative writing from Fordham University. Kevin received an Honorable Mention prize from the Academy of American Poets at Fordham University for his poem “Here Testified.” His chapbook In Memoriam was published via Yellow Flag Press, along with his poems “The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood” and “Time Marches On” which appear in Vision/Verse 2009-2013: An Anthology of Poetry. At the moment, Kevin is working on his dissertation involving a creative translation of various runes, Anglo-Saxon texts, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.1: Featuring T.K. Lee – “Overcoming Writer’s Block: Boxing the Block”

I no longer believe in Writer’s Block.

Here’s what I did. I took that big old block, that mean, splintered Writer’s Block, and I carved out the inside of it, added a hinge and a handle, and called it a Writer’s Box.

And in this Box I put several reminders, knowing full well I’d be revisiting my work, as I like to say, rather than revising.

First, I had to think long and hard—it wasn’t easy, either—about what makes me unique as a writer. What is that special quality that others read in my work and say, “Oh, that is so T.K Lee?”

For starters, I write from a very grounded idea of place, of my southernness, of the mystique and myth, of all those delicious agrarian archetypes I culled from memory. They are the stubby roots running through my work. So, naturally, this went in the box, at the bottom of it. Let’s call it Identity.

Second, into the box, went my obsession with Environment. I stress over how things look in my work. Did I describe the painting just so under that particular dim light that hasn’t been fixed above the fireplace, or did I mention how the doorknob was a plastic diamond shape and loose and it didn’t lock so people might walk in on you in the bathroom, or have I mentioned the heat, how it’s exhausting and yet necessary?

Lastly (but there’s no limit to what can fit in the box), I put my love of Metaphor as it allows duality for a writer. There can always be “something else” to discover when we allow for the metaphorical.

And it works. The box will remind you, the writer, that you are never stuck in a work you’re creating. You’re the Creator. You can’t be stuck.

I used this most recently while working on my current script A Far Corner (in progress, a deadline looming, or more accurately, a “dreadline”) and I was happily writing away when I hit a wall. I took a deep breath, grabbed another pot of coffee (I mean, cup of coffee) and sat back down at the computer.

Here I had two characters, SJ and Votis, in an awkward moment of having just kissed, and there I was, wondering, well, what the hell do they do now? The Big Moment has happened…

Then, I looked in my Writer’s Box. I pulled out Environment, made myself “look” around the “bedroom.” The play takes place in Votis’ memory, of a Christmas, and naturally, the room would be decorated. Once I focused on that, on the Environment, suddenly SJ started talking again, mentioning the smell of a burning candle, and suddenly, she and Votis were having the most deliciously awkward conversation about everything else from candles to curtains to bedspreads to dinner…except the kiss that shouldn’t have happened. Ten pages later, I’d written not one but two solid scenes.

The trick to overcoming “writer’s block,” is never in the writing itself, but in the writer. You have to know what drives you to put pen to paper, to know what goes in your Box. Go try it.

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ABOUT T.K.: T.K. Lee is an award-winning member of the Dramatists Guild of America and the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, among others. A Pushcart-nominated writer of short fiction, and of award-winning poetry, he is currently a Visiting Professor in Playwriting in the MFA program at the Mississippi University for Women. You may learn more about him at www.cleverkris.com or by following him at www.facebook.com/tkleewriting.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.7: Featuring Daren Dean – “Ambiguity and The Staging of Desire”

One of the biggest problems I see in student writing in my creative writing classes has been the failure of the student not to explain within the confines of the story just what the story adds up to for the reader. It’s the difference between that old phrase, show don’t tell. Sometimes we need a little bit of both. Flannery O’Connor said, “You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.” However, O’Connor doesn’t address why we sometimes hate, and sometimes love, ambiguous endings.

A piece of commercial fiction usually does not leave the character’s motivation in doubt. This may be a gross oversimplification but such a piece of writing is usually going to great lengths to tell us what the character is thinking and feeling the entire time and ultimately why.

Wait! There are some wonderful books that end in ambiguity, you say!

Sometimes ambiguity leads the reader to ponder the story as a whole. For example, in Great Expectations, Dickens ends the novel with Pip saying, “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.” What does it mean? Does he walk off into the sunset with Estella? Or, is it over with her for good?

Charles Baxter wrote in The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, “creating a scene is thus the staging of a desire.” What are the characters after? Do they achieve it or not in other words. The climax of the story should build and seem inevitable rather than as a result of random chance. Sometimes in real life things often seem to be decided by coincidence or chance but as Mark Twain once told us, “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

Consider T. S. Eliot’s theory of the Objective Correlative, which could be explained as a series of events that evoke a response. It sounds rather mathematical but what is absolutely correct about it in a traditional story is that the events appear to build to an inevitable conclusion. When this doesn’t happen in fiction, it leaves us wondering as readers “what’s happening here?” The beginning writer will say, “I wanted to leave it to the reader to interpret it anyway he or she wants.” Usually, the reason for this from the beginning writer (a workshop story for example) is that the story is still not as developed as it should be. The writer is not finished writing and revising the story, so it’s rather easy to fall back on ‘I leave it to the reader to decide.’

If the reader doesn’t know what is at stake, then it’s likely the writer doesn’t either. My advice to the young writer is don’t make the reader do all the work as you write your story.  

Create a story with intention and the reader will be sure to understand your ending, whether it’s explicit or hinted at implicitly.

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10345556_10204047170525589_851436200876965131_nABOUT DAREN: Daren Dean is the author of Far Beyond the Pale. His fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in BULL, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Missouri Life, The Oklahoma Review, Midwestern Gothic, Ecotone, Image, Chattahoochee Review, Fiction Southeast, Story South, Aries, and others. His story “Bring Your Sorrow Over Here” was selected as Runner-up by Judge George Singleton in Yemassee’s William Richey Short Fiction contest and another story, “Affliction” was a Finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Fiction Contest for New Writers in 2012. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Dean also worked for several years at the University of Missouri Press. Currently, he teaches creative writing and literature in the English department at Louisiana State University. Check out his book here.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.6: Featuring Leigh Camacho Rourks – “Bodies and Places”

The pads on my feet are thick. Tough.

I spent much of my childhood skidding across the bottoms of jagged, concrete swimming pools, calling “marco,” listening for “polo.” I cut my heels on shells and scuffed sand in the wounds. I was stung by a jellyfish and nipped by darting shadows under waves.

Ask my feet and they will say, we grew up on an island, can’t you tell? Can’t you see?

It leaves a mark.

The pressures of place imprint skin and muscle and neuron. The north, west, east, south of home, the flora and fauna, the history—all of it—helps make us who we are. Even if we fight it. Just as people create, change, and destroy landscapes, landscapes can do the same to us, because, as philosopher Edward Casey explains, “bodies and places … interanimate each other.”

Still, for a period of my writing life, I neglected setting. I couldn’t see the connection between what I knew instinctively—where a person is helps create who he is—and what I learned about “setting” from teachers: “time and place.” Stage directions.

Now an important writing rule is “be specific.” Faced with frustrated, confused workshop readers—”But where is this? I can’t see it”—I had to accept that I had failed this rule. The fix, as I understood it, was stage directions. This solution placated no one and made for bad storytelling. Setting (it turns out) is much more than time and space. Setting is everything that occupies a time and space. Concrete images. Facts.

Hidden within “be specific” is another rule: “pay attention.” I had trouble being specific about the world because I was not very good at paying attention to the world. So, I picked up a camera.

I spent weekends taking pictures around local waterways. Many were of dragonflies or flowers. The majority, though, captured alligators, water moccasins, and giant banana spiders. Louisiana is a wonderfully weird and violent place, and as I learned to populate my writing with the specifics of home, I also found my voice.

I sought authors who wrote the Gulf Coast and found Tom Franklin. His mythic descriptions evoke an aggressive and unforgiving landscape that I immediately recognized. He explores what Gaston Bachelard calls the “link between place and identity formation.” His characters are animated by the violence of their home; it is a natural part of them. They are shaped by setting. I searched for this in my own writing and went back to my camera to find it. More alligators. More snakes. More swamp. I looked at a world at once beautiful and ugly through the camera and the characters I write and love came to life.

The editors of Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location explain that “place is a space to which meaning has been ascribed.” Every place is pregnant with meaning. When you write place, this meaning is what you give your writing. It is what you give your readers.

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12067878_10206783107049592_223832446_nABOUT LEIGH: Leigh Camacho Rourks lives in South Louisiana and, on her best days, can be found lazing in the sun. She is the managing editor for Rougarou, a journal of literature and arts out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she is pursuing her PhD. This year, her short story “Moon Trees” was awarded the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award and her story “Pinched Magnolias” received the Robert Watson Literary Review Prize in Fiction. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Pank, and Greensboro Review.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.5: Featuring Michael Lauchlan – “Noticing as Key Element in Craft”

I am from Detroit. The history, grime, music, chaos, and kindness of this town have marked me: marked my flat, midwestern accent, and, more subtly, my eyes and ears. As Annie Dillard suggested decades ago, simply learning to see a place, to “notice” its hidden elements is a key element of craft.

Two writers with Detroit roots, Jamaal May (Hum) and Cal Freeman (Brother of Leaving) offer readers visceral and immediate contact with the worlds their poems inhabit. These writers share a powerful commitment to compassionate noticing. In “How to Enter a Bank-Owned Home,” Freeman drops us in front of a ”caved-in/wooden porch” with a moment of disarming simplicity. In “And Even the Living Are Lost,” May places us in a dice game, weighed in a small boy’s troubled, vulnerable eyes:

a bottle shatters, a door slams shut

and the sound ricochets off the pavement, darts off

like some worried pigeon while your son stares at us.

How long has he been staring at us?”

In very different ways, May and Freeman insist on a heightened awareness that leads toward a deepened communion with a “place” populated by rarely heard voices and untold stories.

Perhaps “craft” is too often understood in terms of “the act of verse-making.” Indeed, mentors and friends have helped me understand form, helped me cut abstractions and details not integral to the core of a poem. But a key element of craft might be one that William Carlos Williams sharpened while awaiting births and deaths. Like many of the writers whose work stirs us, Williams understood that receptivity is part of the writer’s “craft.” When I teach “The Sparrow,” I may emphasize his stanzaic form, his stunning choice of a metaphor that captures his father’s fire. I ought first point out that he watched a real sparrow, that attentive “noticing” is an essential moral ingredient in “imagism.” Not surprisingly, Williams saw and valued his poor patients, elevating them above abstraction and stereotype.

From ancient times, one role of the lyric poem has been the conveyance of an essential story, the vital “news” not provided by other means. To become containers for faces, voices, and images we’ve seen and heard, we need a reservoir of compassion and attentive eyes and ears. We need to let go of our laptops and our personal ambitions to enter the world of our communities. We may find among virtually unseen “neighbors” a plethora of surprises. If we treasure these gifts, we might also begin to populate our work with some of the people and places (Baltimore, Compton, Detroit, Cleveland, etc.) our culture pushes to the margins.

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IMG_2128 (1)ABOUT MICHAEL: Michael Lauchlan’s poems have landed in many publications including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, English Journal, The Dark Horse, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, Harpur Palate, and The Cortland Review.His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave., from WSU Press. Learn more about his book and listen to him read a poem or two by visiting here.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.4: Featuring Betsy Johnson-Miller – “Don’t Strangle Your Brother: The Imperative Mood in Writing”

The best way to get me to dig in my heels and say no? Try telling me what to do. Eat your peas. No. Run five miles. No. Stop and smell the flowers. No no no (even though I love peas, running, and smelling flowers). Hence, the mystery: why is every poem I write lately in the imperative mood?

“stay// stay till half past the tulip’s eye,”

“crawl out// what will pierce you/ will pierce you,”

“live this/ and every day/ without reins”

What I have begun to realize is that there are different kinds of imperative moods. The first kind is what I call the god/mother imperative—the thou shalt’s or thou shalt not’s. This is the voice of the wagging finger: Clean your room. Be good. Pay your bills on time. Don’t strangle your little brother, no matter how much he deserves it.

The second kind of imperative mood is more capitalistic. Buy this. Wear that. There’s even that website—eat this, not that.

These first two are the kinds of imperatives I resist with every fiber of my being. Why? Because their main motivation is to point out what is wrong with me. They make me feel badly about myself. I am not enough. I will never be enough, never have enough. And I can’t bear to hear voices like that—either in my life or on the page.

But I’ve come to realize that there is a different kind of imperative voice. It falls more into exhortation, and this is what I have been writing (and reading) lately. The beauty of this kind of an imperative mood is that it addresses what isn’t working. It slices through all of the protective layers I pad myself in and makes me discover and acknowledge the ways I am broken. It addresses the fact that I am thirsty, dying for a wise voice calling out to me in my wilderness. This kind of imperative voice doesn’t tell me what is wrong with myself or what I need to buy in order to be happy. It listens to what a soul—my soul—really needs. It invites me to be my most authentic, my best, my most wide-open self.

And so I listen.

To Mary Oliver telling me I do not have to be good.

To Rumi, who urges me to start a huge and foolish project without caring one whit what others think of me.

To my Self, who is ready to crawl out, be pierced, and live without reins. A self who is ready to say yes. Yes.

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ABOUT BETSY: IMG_1349[1]Betsy Johnson-Miller lives in Minnesota and teaches at the College of St. Benedict/ St. John’s University. She also works at the Collegeville Institute. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Boulevard, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Portland, and The Cortland Review. Garrison Keillor has read two of her poems on The Writer’s Almanac. Her collections of poems Fierce This Falling (2012) and Rain When You Want Rain (2010) are available from Mayapple Press.

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Christie visits Lake Tahoe – June 2015. Picture taken at Incline Village, Nevada.

“Much of our talk and action, but not all; there seems something which may conveniently be called ‘value,’ something which is measured not by minutes or hours, but by intensity, so that when we look at our past it does not stretch back evenly but piles up into a few notable pinnacles, and when we look at the future it seems sometimes a wall, sometimes a cloud, sometimes a sun, but never a chronological chart. Neither memory nor anticipation is much interested in Father Time, and all dreamers, artists and lovers are partially delivered from his tyranny; he can kill them, but he cannot secure their attention, and at the very moment of doom, when the clock collected in the tower its strength and struck, they may be looking the other way. So daily life, whatever it may be really, is practically composed of two lives — the life in time and the life by values — and our conduct reveals a double allegiance.”

– E.M. Forester from Aspects of the Novel

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.3: Featuring COL Editor Christie Collins – “Surrendering to the Writing”

Just as I won’t take that step off the ledge of a plane to dive into the wide mouth of the sky. Just as I would never skinny-dip with you in your grandfather’s creek. So too do I not surrender myself to my writing.

This is not a new concern for me, but I’m coming to realize that it’s the key; it’s the answer for how I cross the bridge from where I am in my writing to where I want to be.

When I sit down to write a poem (poetry being my primary genre), 90% of the time I’m working on a concept or a narrative, and just as frequently, I have a good sense of where I want the poem to go. But, even when the direction of the poem is unclear, I try to fall back on elements I know to be true of most moving poems: a turn, crackling metaphors, anaphora (especially since my poems are usually free verse), precise lineation. Theoretically, I also push for a well-spun ending that’s both earned emotionally and concludes/renews the meaning of the poem. In each phase of the writing process, I command total control over the poem. I tell it what it will be, who it will be, when it can take a piss. While I’ve written several poems I’m quite proud of, others I’m starting to see as little constipated capsules of inhibition and stunted growth; they don’t breathe, at least not on their own, and they don’t end with effortless gusto, in part because the poem itself never stood a chance to go where it was meant to go. I’m the girl with the bird clutched in my fist wondering why it won’t fly.

I’ve found this to be even worse in my attempts at writing fiction. In speaking of his new novel Purity, Jonathan Franzen said “you have to wing it. If you don’t then it seems like it’s written from an outline. And the idea is to start to set yourself some impossible kind of place to get to, and it becomes an adventure.”

Is that it – am I afraid of adventure?

Two poets who let the poem go where it wants to go? Mary Ruefle and Dean Young. I can only imagine that they follow each poem into the cornfield, through the chicken coop, over the hill into a metropolis, and then hail a taxi back through the conclusion. Their poems surrender control and find in so doing a kind of artful freedom. Henry James says that the first lesson for a writer is to learn to be worthy of this kind of freedom.

I must surrender control. When I open my Mac to a blank document, I need to learn to take a running leap into the sky of the project – to stop writing from the ledge (where I have total and complete control) and start writing mid-air, where I don’t know if I’m safe or where I’ll land.

ABOUT CHRISTIE:

me 4Christie Collins is the editor of Pretty Red Shoes and the Red Soles Series. She is also doctoral student studying Literature, Creative Writing, and Writing Pedagogy at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. Additionally, she teaches full-time in the Department of English at LSU. Her poems have recently appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Wicked Alice, So to Speak, Still: The Journal, and Canyon Voices. Her chapbook titled Along the Diminishing Stretch of Memory is available through Dancing Girl Press.

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“And I told him all that and then I knew I couldn’t tell him the rest and that I couldn’t marry a man I couldn’t tell this story to.”

-Amy Bloom, from her story “Love is Not a Pie.” Published in her collection Come to Me.

 

 

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

A Writer’s Home Office Overhaul

My home office is always a disaster, constantly doubling over as a sanctuary for my cats and a storage room for the piles of papers and boxes that my husband and I don’t know where to put yet. But, as of a few weeks ago, my home office became my only office, at least for the next seven months, which means that I had to make it a workable space, one that I could actually see myself walking into in the morning with a cup coffee.

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Office Before Reorganization

Before I reorganized the office, my husband and I both had already stopped using it in any productive capacity. Boxes of storage lined the walls, books were everywhere, cat hair clung to the rug and the chair. It wasn’t unusable, but it wasn’t an environment that I wanted to be in for very long, especially not one in which I wanted to sit down and wait for the creative muse to come and whisper in my ear. Let me just say – I wouldn’t call myself an organized person, but it does feel good to be in a space in which every item has a place. My thoughts are scattered, hardly ever organized. I need to work in a place that isn’t a disaster like my mind always seems to be.

To improve my home office situation, I made three big changes:

1) I bought a filing cabinet.

2) I redid my bookshelves.

3) I added two more lamps and new art/décor.

I can’t believe I only just recently bought a filing cabinet. We bought a two drawer set-up (pictured below) from Office Depot that looks like a piece of furniture. I now have ample space to file away not only personal documents but also school and work documents.

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Bookshelves after moving and wallpapering

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Wallpaper used on bookshelves

My bookshelves were probably the biggest overhaul, and I know that for some people bookshelves aren’t even a part of the home office space. But, for the PhD student in Literature, they are the focal point of the office — and of the work, for that matter. I first moved all my bookshelves to the same wall to consolidate space and to create a single bookshelf look. Then, I had to do something about the coloring. They were so dark that they really dominated the feel of the room. I had seen on Pinterest a few months ago that people were starting to wallpaper the backs of bookshelves in order to update the furniture or just to give it a different feel. So, I went to Lowe’s and found this paper I liked – I knew I wanted to go light since the shelves were so dark. I cut and pasted the wallpaper to the inner back of the shelves with little trouble. Also, the paper I chose can be painted, so that could be another touch added. After, I was pleased with the new look. Not as dark and formal as before.

The next task was to put the books and other items back in a new order. I differ from other readers and writers in that I don’t keep every book I buy. I only keep books that I truly think I’ll refer back to in the future. So, as I was pulling books off the shelves before the wallpapering, I made a stack of books to give away/sell on Amazon. I also stacked the unshelved books in categories by genre. Most of the information on Pinterest had women and men reorganizing by book color and size. Wow, those must be people who don’t actually read/use their books, although I will admit that the pictures looked amazing.

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Reshelving the books

I organize my books by genre, sub-genre, and then alphabetical order for works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, meaning that I don’t bother with alphabetical order for reference books and anthologies. Then, I also added in favorite items – pictures, mementos, rocks, and pieces of art – to give my bookshelves character. My husband calls this my shrine to myself. Hmm, there’s probably some unflattering truth in there somewhere. Always, my 1928 Remington typewriter takes center stage on the top.

The following site was helpful for ideas on bookshelves:

www.brit.co/bookshelf-backs/

In the end, I added new lamps and new décor. The lamp lighting is especially helpful, giving the room a subtle and inviting feel, not as intense as my overhead lights. I chose a new white and gold piece of artwork to go above my bookshelves to contrast with the dark wood of the shelves, and then I picked orange accents to hang on either side to bring out the orange tones in my rug. In the future, I’d like to paint the walls, but this was a quick, cheap, and efficient project that created the useable work space we needed. Now, if I can just get my pets to chill out, so I can get some work done 🙂

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Desk uncluttered and ready for real use

 

Reading chair with my cat Meddle

Reading chair with my cat Meddle

 

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Window and new filing cabinet

 

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New book organization and décor