Where Do You Write?

I have a very dull fiberboard desk I bought at Wal-Mart maybe eight years ago. Surrounding my laptop are piles of paper, post-notes, stray computer cables, a little  jade tree, two little buddhas, books, pens, a polished stone skull and other scraps. I painted the office a pleasing green tea color (looks like green tea ice cream). I put book shelves up last summer, but there are more books scattered on the floor. Next to the desk is the small table I use to tie flies. Under that are crates of fur, feathers, hooks and thread. I can see the trees and sunrises out my window, and if I crane my neck around I can see my little goldfish pond and the veggie garden. Why am I telling you this? Because in the Ploughshares blog Aimee Nezhukumatathil (say that backwards drunk) writes about her favorite writing spot and asked all her friends to share their’s. My office isn’t nearly as cool as some she reveals, though it’s bit more functional than others. Mostly I need more shelves and should make more of an effort to pick up my socks. I’d post a picture but I can’t find any of my cameras.

I’m also jealous of Ann Townsend’s dock where she goes when the desk and computer aren’t working out

When I had a job that required me to take a 50 minute train ride twice a day I would often get poems started while commuting with my laptop. Now it’s mostly at night, here, at my desk.  So, where do you write?  At a desk? In the kitchen? Does it matter?


Update: the original post is more than a year old, and my writing and work situation has changed, and I found my camera, so here’s a pic of my #writeplace

Poked and Prompted

This past weekend I had the pleasure to give a reading with a small group of other writers at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival in Philadelphia. This particular reading was sponsored by Philadelphia Stories and the Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio. The invited readers were either recent contributors to Philadelphia Stories (me) or to the anthology book Prompted.

There’s an interesting back story to Prompted. It’s a collection of poems, stories and essays that evolved out of workshops run by Alison Hicks et al and the Wordshop Studio. Many, in fact most, of the authors in the anthology are not anything near career writers. Some of them came to writing late into their other careers for whatever assortment of reasons that drive people to try to write. Some are teachers, some in medical or social work or other professions. Only a few appear to have come from English or graduate writing programs.

OK, I’ll be honest, I only bought the book ($10) to be polite—a workshop anthology is not something I would automatically pick up, but since I was a guest there, I figured I’d do my part to give back and maybe be find some local writers to connect with.

Later that afternoon, sitting in my backyard, I read through most of the poetry selections and was very pleasantly impressed.  Jeanne Obbard’s When you wake up the world is the poetry highlight for me.

Some of the contributors have lit credentials. Joyce Meyers has poems in Comstock Review and a chapbook. Julie Compton has two novels. Christy Schneider has read at the Painted Bride Reading Series. There are more like that, but you get the impression this is not a collection of MFA flotsam barnacled onto college English departments (if only I could be barnacled onto a college English department …).

The title of the collection gives away a little of the inspiration. The Wordshop workshops are organized around writing prompts—the leader throws out a situation, a setting, maybe a word, and the writers have to produce something from it on the spot. I’ve been in workshops settings like that and have even run some like that. When I was in grad school a friend and I would get together once a week to give ourselves prompts and time limits to produce poems. It’s a sort of creative warm up before the yoga teacher makes you do the really hard moves.

Anyway, whatever the GPWS is doing, they’re doing it right. Prompted is an enjoyable book and a nice look into the creative possibilities of people who weren’t grooming themselves as writers since the age of nine.

You can buy it here.

Dickinson, Collins and TMI

Enough with Emily Dickinson. She’s been getting a lot of attention lately for a long dead person. I’ve got nothing against her poems–I like some of them very much, but there seems to be an obsession with her this year. A recent biography suggests she may have had epilepsy or was a lesbian or was possessed by an alien intelligence and had very bad breath. I haven’t read the book, and probably won’t unless someone gives it to me, because I’m rarely interested in the biographies of poets, especially ones who never left the house. But more interesting is the amount of speculation and word lather fuming up about this poet and the reaction to what others say about the poet.

One of the most amusing responses I’ve seen so far comes from the blogger CAConrad on PhillySound:new poetry in which the writer rants about an interview Billy Collins did on NPR with Terry Gross. For me, the smartest thing Collins says in the interview about the new biography is this: “So there are many speculations about her, but I think the poems are self-sufficient.”

Still he goes on to speculate himself about her sexuality by reading his poem called Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.  I think CAConrad makes quite too much of the whole thing, and clearly doesn’t like Collins anyway. Still, I wish we could put this whole Dickinson hyperventilation to rest for a while. There are so many amazing living poets deserving of the attention.

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes
First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything –
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.