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in the stacks

Coffee House Press runs a residency program that puts writers and artists in archives, libraries, and other collections. I’m using the collection that belongs to the Little Poetry Library and working at Blue Moon Coffee Café (where the Little Poetry Library is located) over the next two weeks, while I make a Book of Hours—I hope with the collaboration of community members (you?). I’ll also be reading on August 4th at Blue Moon (upstairs); it’s free and you are invited. Compline-July23-Lorsung

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writing process

Laressa Dickey asked me to be part of the ‘My Writing Process Blog Tour‘ that’s going around. I have a weak immune system and am thus susceptible to things like this. Here we go.

The Blog Tour demands to know what I’m working on. I demur in the way I usually do when people ask this question (they’re just being polite/they don’t really want to know/what you’re working on is way too weird/try not to scare people off/don’t mention theory, whatever you do). But the Blog Tour insists. Look at all the people who’ve already answered, it says. No one is even going to read your blog. No one will have to know. I admit this is true. No one really reads my blog, except maybe my friend Lisa, her dad, and a couple of hackers who are wondering whether this site is prime real estate or not. (It isn’t. Sorry, guys. Check down the street. The copper’s all gone, here.) Okay. So no getting out of it. I’m working on a novel that pivots on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan; a collection of essays that seems like it will in fact be two collections of essays, one about art/art history and one about living in the UK; a collection of long poems with long long titles; and some random things that might eventually be another collection of shorter poems. I’ve also got some essays about dance, Italy, and Portugal going, but who knows what those are going to be. Are you happy, now, Blog Tour?

No. The Blog Tour is not happy. It’s dissatisfied. That’s not nearly answer enough. It wants to pry into my deepest process secrets. It wants to make me think strategically about my work. Ugh. God. Okay. How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?, the Blog Tour asks. I have no idea, I think. My work is derivative, frivolous, and dull. Maybe that’s how it differs. But the Blog Tour prods me. Come on, it says. Be real about this. Thanks for believing in me, Blog Tour. But the Blog Tour isn’t about belief. It just wants answers. All right, I say. My work is not that different from other works in its genres. Constrained roughly by form and language, there’s bound to be overlap. I use sentences. So many people do, these daysBut maybe it’s the way that my brain refuses to do one thing at a time (meaning my sentences do imagistic things, static things, when they maybe ‘should’ be doing linear or plot-driven things; do ‘theoretical’ things when they maybe ‘should’ be doing ‘poetic’ things) that makes my work different. It’s not a new thing and I’m in no way alone in doing this—writers I adore do it in ways I look up to and love: W.G. Sebald and Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover and Anne Boyer and W.J.T. Mitchell and Maggie Nelson—but within genre it’s maybe a commitment to/inability to avoid distraction/boundary-crossing/bastardy that marks my work.

Oh, okay, the Blog Tour sighs. I can tell it’d rather have me be unequivocal. (Not my strength. Is it a nice day? Sure, I enjoy the fresh air and blue skies, but I can see how an allergy-sufferer might be having a hard time. Etc.) Nope. I’m ambivalent. Born that way. Maybe. But the Blog Tour presses on: Why do you write what you do?, it asks. For a moment, I want to say I was born that way, too, but is that the case? No. I write what I do because I grew up in he house I grew up in, with the people who lived there. I write what I do because I realized about ten years ago that it’s impossible to make a scale model of everything, but I wanted to try. I write what I do because I’m afraid of death, my own and others’, and I’m sticking my chin out at it. I write what I do because I want to remember and I want to figure things out. I write things that become ‘fiction’ (?) when I feel that feeling, and things that are ‘poems’ (?) when that texture happens, and things that are ‘essays’ (?) when they have to be essays. The writing makes demands and I try to respond, and all the while I’m aware of how easily the things, places, people I love and am deeply attached to could disappear, of the tragedy that attachment is, and of my desire for those things, places, and people to live a little bit of forever, at least the forever of my life. So I pay attention to them and I write them down. I write what I do because I want things I feel are unseen or unattended-to to be seen and attended to. I write what I do in the interest of a more-than-bare life, not for me but for everyone I can. I write what I do as a mark of affection. I write what I do to speak with the people who aren’t around or aren’t near enough to speak with in the flesh.

The Blog Tour is filing its nails. It’s a little bored. All that sounds a bit, how do you say, flouncy, it says. It would rather I committed to something more concrete. I can tell it’s frustrated, under its façade of nonplussed nail care. One more question, it says. How does your writing process work? I can feel the disappointment oozing into the room as the Blog Tour waits for my answer. Ugh, I think. How does my writing process work? I sit down at the table with my notebook and computer at it and stare out the window for a while. Some birds and shadows move. There’s noise, some of which I can identify, some of which I can’t. I make some idle marks on the page of my notebook, vertical or horizontal lines. I feel a little dull. My right hand moves on the trackpad of my laptop and I redirect it from the Chrome icon to the OpenOffice one. Eh. The blank document makes me feel a little sick. I pick up the book lying on my table and read a little bit, taking notes in my notebook as I do. As always, I want to avoid the thing I actually enjoy doing (and enjoy even more having done). I avoid it by looking, reading, walking, doing chores, talking to friends, listening to things happening. Ineluctably this leads to me doing the thing (writing). I am in a position right now where I can, if I can get myself to do it, write every weekday for at least a few hours in the morning. If I can get myself in the chair, those hours translate into words for the novel, an essay, or an article. Poems rarely happen that way for me (scheduled). They happen after a buildup of time/compressed desire/feeling. There is a very specific texture of time that leads to poems for me at this point, and unless I am working on a time-specific thing (poem happening over a course of X hours; poems happening daily for a set number of days) I rarely have a schedule with them. I’ve found that they will come as and when they do, and as long as I’m reading and writing other things, I’m limber enough to receive them when they get here. The prose things take more discipline, because they are generally made of more words and therefore require longer periods of belief that they will function/longer times immersed in the writing. With poems, I don’t do much revision these days—not the way I used to (draft after saved draft). If they aren’t working, I leave them and do something else. They will come or they won’t, eventually. I revise right over them and lose whatever there used to be. No backward glances. Prose I revise much more and much differently, and I know this is because the first long prose work I wrote was my doctoral dissertation, which trained me very differently from my training to make poems. I enjoy revising prose very much, maybe because I forget what I have written and so reading it again I’m reimmersed in ideas I was/am excited about.

I will pass this on to Justin Daugherty and Rachelle Cruz and Neele Dellschaft, if they are willing. Which I can’t guarantee. But you should check out their writing anyway.

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something else

Vermont Studio Center

Vermont Studio CenterThe real thing is going to bed and saying see you in the morning, and meaning it, in a stress-free way: knowing that you’ll be able to have more conversations and more walks and more readings and more viewings, more cups of tea and more meals together. And that that will go on and on, and that it will moreover go on and on in an environment that is designed to support your (pl.) work, and not only to support it but to understand it, to make it feel, for the month, sensible and reasonable that you should want to do it all the time, and be surrounded by people who are likewise making this kind of work. It’s a combination of the last month of high school (everyone kind of grouping up, despite whatever differences there might have been/that might persist outside the confines of those short weeks) combined with the best imagination of a summer camp combined with your favorite peers from university (the ones who you’d gladly talk to all night long, and tomorrow night, too), combined with the recognition—sometimes immediate, sometimes slower-growing—of deeply kindred spirits. It changed my life to be with them.

 

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June/VSC

vermont studio center

vermont studio center

vermont studio center

vermont studio center

vermont studio center

I have made so much progress on the novel I’m writing (“the novel I’m writing”! what are you like!). I’ve written a poem every day with an alphabetical and formal constraint. I’ve written poems to add to sequences in progress. I’ve written notes for two essays, and an entire essay that will probably end up being three or four thousand words. I’ve made much less developed notes for further essays. I’ve taken photos. I’ve made amazing friends and contacts, met people whose work I adore and can’t wait to publish if they’ll let me. I’ve swum in the river and slept very well and gotten up early almost every day. I’ve begun four chapbook manuscripts: one is finished (resting), one is half-done, one is five poems and a plan, and one is an idea I hope to flesh out tomorrow. I’ve had my work read and read others’ work, I’ve read to an audience and listened to readings and slide talks. I’ve walked in the humid air and watched the rain choke the window. I’m excited for a train to another small town and two lovely friends, on Friday. I’ll miss the people here, and even the ugly room that almost made me cry at first (the floor was so dirty), I’ll miss that too.

Merci to J for understanding and supporting my need to travel alone and to spend the time doing this. (He wrote me an email after G.G. Márquez died that said “if you want to write your book, sit down and do it. [Márquez] just started writing one day and kept going for 18 months. You can do that too; even if you feel stuck and not going anywhere, just keep on going, your idea will pop at some point and then you will have something good.”)