Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Write a Poem by Nancy Bogen

How to Write Poetry by Nancy Bogen has been on my bookshelf so long I can barely remember when I picked it up. It is very thorough in many ways, most of the content focusing on traditional form poetry, scansion, etc. Because most of the scanning exercises do not have answers, unless you have the time to look up every word in a sonnet, you probably will either skip the exercises altogether or never know whether you did them well. The exercises where you are encouraged to write are more often collaborative as in, “write a version and share your version with someone else” and for all Bogen’s saying that the book can be used by someone who is not in a classroom or group so many of the exercises were designed for two or more people I have to wonder what book she thought she was writing or if someone else is responsible for the exercises. And if you get confused reading that it is best not to write a metaphor because they should come naturally but then want to know how you are supposed to not force yourself to write one when there are a series of exercises that tell you to do exactly this, often without a poem in which to even contextualize the metaphor, your guess is as good as mine. I was confused too. And I still don’t know how anyone is supposed to write a metaphor without any context. I agree that it is best for a metaphor to come naturally from the content so I didn’t find this section very interesting. Overall, the book was a disappointment and probably best read in a classroom or workshop environment. Otherwise, I’d say this is not the best choice and reading contemporary poetry will probably teach you as much as this book attempts to do.
Note: The image is from the third edition which is apparently co-authored with Laurie Rozakis and may very well correct many of the issues I had with the book.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekly Quote, Curious Snowdoll, and A Book "Read"

Yes We Can! Presidential Elect Barack Obama

I’ve been surprised, even saddened, by the reaction of some people. I am also delighted at the enthusiasm of younger voters, eager in ways I haven’t seen in my lifetime. Whoever won the election last week, the moment was a remarkable one. It is a shame that some have discolored what makes the country great with hate-full and petty words. And thank you to our American forefathers who made it possible for even these things to be said without recourse. Snowdoll seems to think she hears something in the kitchen cabinet. Our theory is that there is a sort of echo from the water heater behind the wall that she is registering with her remarkable puppy ears. Whatever may be the reason, I apologize for the jerk in the camera. I can’t explain what happened at the moment. I just sort of lost it.

I read, if that is what you can call it, the 1000 Journals Project book. I’d heard about it and signed up for various journals but I’ve never received one. I often went to the website and skimmed the scanned pages. So I was surprised to discover that there is a book which features some of the many pages. After discovering Post Secret through the books they have published, I had high hopes that I might enjoy this book. Alas, it was rather dull. While the Post Secret images are no less interesting or imaginative, what gives the idea its impact are the secrets revealed. When skimming through the confessions, I often wonder who wrote the card, what the context for their writing might have been, and end up creating my own story around the card. With the pages in the journal, few inspired the same engagement. I love the idea of 1000 Journals but I’m not sure it merited being printed. For me the website sufficed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Time to Lose by Pema Chödrön

No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chödrön is a passage by passage commentary on Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhichitta. For some reason Chödrön chose to skip one of the chapters which makes me want to reread Shantideva’s text, particularly chapter nine. With that said, I appreciate Chödrön’s commitment to providing a commentary upon this ancient text, contextualizing the passages while also making them relevant to the contemporary reader. The commentary is often quite practical which is why I took long my time reading it, often setting the book aside for weeks on end. There are so many passages that also merit some reflection, whether quotes from Shantideva’s text or Chödrön’s commentary. What makes No Time to Lose so remarkable is that in spite of the content’s depth it is an easy book to read. Many books that take on such heavy teachings rarely make it accessible to the average reader. Sharing her personal stories alongside distant history and sacred stories, Chödrön does a wonderful job of bringing light to a text that could easily be lost in the fog of cultural confusion. I would love to read this book again sometime along with someone else, sharing the experience and discussing ways to put the teachings into personal practice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unstuck by Jane Anne Staw, PhD

Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide for Working Through Writer’s Block by Jane Anne Staw, PhD lives up to its ambitious title. Leaning on years of writing and counseling experience, Staw explains to the reader various causes for writing blocks. Each chapter also offers a short list of writing approaches to help facilitate moving through the block. Some of the exercises are obvious—free-write as a form of warming up the creative juices, try writing the same thing in a different form, write unsent letters to anyone who may have stifled your creativity in the past. There are other exercises that seem, on the surface, counter intuitive. For instance, after a writer comes to her unable to get any momentum on a dissertation, Staw encourages the writer to only write for fifteen minutes a day. How long would it take someone writing only a few paragraphs a day to finish a complete dissertation? The world may never know because, as a result of following this advice, the writer experiences small doses of success. As a result, the fifteen minutes soon grows into thirty minutes and eventually an hour. I haven’t read many books on writer’s block. It may be true to say that I’ve read none although memory being what it is, I may have and forgotten. However, after having read Staw’s Unstuck, I have no reason to look further than this book for help the next time I am feeling unable to write for whatever reason.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not One to Drop the Ball

I committed to posting a blog a day for the month of November and here I am, posting a blog post. Unfortunately, I literally have nothing to say. I got up this morning, rode my bike 11 miles while reading a book, made a spinach feta fritatta. Then I took a shower, tried start writing an essay and failed. Struggled most of the day with the poetry-a-day challenge and then struggled some more to write 1666 words for nanowrimo. Isn't that exciting? You are probably falling out of your chair overwhelmed with enthusiasm, thrilled to know my life is so rich and full. Okay. It is rich and it is full but I think it lends credence to Tolstoy's "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I promise to have something somewhat more interesting for you tomorrow.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A NaNo Sample

It seems only reasonable for me to offer the following sample from my nano writing since I posted a sample from the Poetry-a-Day challenge. So here is a bit of something I wrote this morning, unedited and in all its impossibly rough glory. “You know, if I had met you before, I would have fallen in love with you.” Brandon’s voice had faded to a softness that was barely more than a whisper. He was degenerating more quickly than the staff had anticipated and he was not straining more than ever to live one more day. “And you don’t love me now?” Michael chuckled around the words. He forward in the chair, holding Brandon’s hand in both of his own, his face resting on the pillow. “You know what I mean.” Brandon’s fragile squeeze was barely perceptible. Michael did know and kissed the parchment thin flesh of the dying man’s hand. “I’m sorry we did not have more time together.” With a sigh, Brandon closed his eyes. “There’s never enough time. Life is tragically short.” Michael released his gentle grip on Brandon’s hands and picked up the book that was lying on the bedside table. “I’ll pick up where we left off.” Opening the book to the place marked from the previous visit’s reading, Michael began reading aloud, keeping his voice soothing. The smell of decay was saturating the room, the bed linens, and still he leaned in close to Brandon, so close that he could feel the changes in the man’s breathing before the machines picked up on anything, close enough to hear Brandon over the clicking and beeps of the technology that kept him alive and feel his way past the medicine to Brandon’s suffering beneath. Michael wanted to feel the pain, the struggle that was blurred through the blessing of morphine and other pharmaceutical cocktails. The pain and discomfort, the urge to move knowing that even a twitch would bring on more suffering than the possible relief a shift would bring. He reached toward Brandon’s suffering not to relieve it, because there was nothing he could do to make it easier, but to give himself the strength he needed to stay and love Brandon, the resolve to let him love him in return. Had they met before, the end would have been the same and their love no less than what they shared now. Coming to Brandon day after day hastened the end and Michael allowed his gift to facilitate what medical miracles fought to stave off. Reality. Michael knew that Brandon was condemned by his disease and he was determined to love him through this transition.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

My Morning Coffee

How to prove I need coffee this morning.
1. pour water into coffee maker 2. give dogs water 3. grind coffee 4. give dogs food 5. rinse coffee pot 6. hit start on coffee maker 7. read email while coffee brews 8. put sugar in cup 9. but I put the sugar in the wrong cup 10. put sugar in right cup 11. pour cream into cup 12. Ha! got it right this time! 13. pour coffee into cup 14. except I forgot to put coffee grounds into the coffee maker 15. blink a few times at milky, sweetened, hot water 16. put coffee grounds into coffee maker 17. refill water in coffee maker 18. hit start on coffee maker 19. put sugar into cup 20. realize it is the WRONG cup again! 21. write stupid pointless blog posts until I can make myself a cup of coffee