Philip Graham on Craft and Reading

A beautiful essay on reading, emotional stress, and War and Peace:

“One day in seventh grade I ordered my usual stack of books from the Scholastic Books Service; one of them was an abridged version of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  A little skeptical, I figured I could skip past the peace parts if they proved too boring.  When the nine or so books I’d ordered finally arrived I saved Tolstoy’s novel for last—even abridged, the book was 500 pages long, longer than any book I’d ever read before.  But its length was not the challenge, not in the way the vocabulary of Henry Huggins had been for me years ago. The challenge was of an entirely different order.” https://themillions.com/2010/04/every-day-i-open-a-book.html

Also–selected crafted posts from Graham:
https://www.philipgraham.net/selected-craft-posts/

Two of My Favorite Millennial Thinkers Respond To A Question About Belief

What beliefs did you have about yourself that have now changed?

Tasia Karoutsos: That I’m bad at math, can’t understand complex science, and that I should pursue creative writing. Turns out I prefer analytic thinking. Wish I’d figured that out before I started my career!

Tasia Karoutsos: I also used to think all of my body hair was thick, dark, and hideous, so I would shave the “normal” bits, as well as my arms, tummy, and toes. Adult me has gained back a lot of time by letting go of that insecurity

Isabel Winson-Sagan: I believed there was some sort of ultimate reality or truth that I could get to if I worked on it. It took me a long time to understand that human consciousness is much more about holding multiple, often conflicting, truths simultaneously. And that this has nothing to do with “reality” (what a problematic concept!). Also that I would be an English teacher when I grew up as a fall back because I had no real passion for anything! Sorry mom

You Are Not The Boss of Me

My social media feed is often full of things telling me how to think and feel. I must do this, I must do that, eat this, that, not this, that, protest this, that, agree with, disagree with…the list is endless. Much as I enjoy hearing what others are doing and thinking, I don’t like being subjected to a barrage of control. I feel that ideas and actions are being increasingly policed, but in ways I find repetitious, not revelatory.

What really set me off was a Facebook response to a privately sponsored writer’s residency that paid a stipend. No good deed goes unpunished as the offer was attacked from every possible angle—including that they didn’t fund authors enough! I’ve been involved with the vision of possible residency using a Tiny House, and I found this conversation downright depressing.

Then it occurred to me I don’t have to worry. My family tried to control me and I left New Jersey the day after high school graduation. Just a heads up to the universe-—bossing me around does’t work as a form of communication.

I am, however, a willing servant to my autumn blooming roses and my dirty suminagashi tray…Photo by Isabel Winson-Sagan

Goals of the Season

My favorite small private class is back in session. I’ll ask you what I asked them:

1. What did you accomplish creatively over the summer? Writing, inspiration, special reading, habits, or? Publication, readings, outreach, and professional life?

2. And, what are your creative goals for autumn?
What aides you in accomplishing these goals?
What stands in your way?

How To Not Get A Grant by Miriam Sagan

About a year ago, the creative duo of Maternal Mitochondria applied for a small grant we did not get. Nothing unusual there. We thought we were right in their catchment area according to the call, but when we reviewed what they funded we could easily see—it just wasn’t us. Plus it was very competitive. That said, this is a usual enough occurrence. We apply to a lot of things, and often get rejected as well as getting accepted a fair amount.
So, what is of interest here?
I reviewed our proposal, which was for three projects. None of them seemed very pricey so I started to wonder if we could do them without the grant. And it seems like we can—and will.
The first was to do an all ages workshop of suminagashi and poetry and install a geocache walk in a public space. Well, we’re set up to do just that with the support of the Railyard Park in Santa Fe in August.
The second project was to do a geocache path of our own art and poetry. This project has really taken off, and is going to be a permanent site off Route 14. Our resource here, instead of the grant, is my son-in-law Tim Brown who is designing nine amazing spirit houses out of scrap metal. These will be containers for changing shows, but they are sculptural works of art all by themselves.
The third project was to geocache works of individual women artists which they’d installed near their studios/houses. We’d asked for small honorariums for this. This project hasn’t happened yet, although a variant will be a pop-up show curated at the Santa Fe Poetry Garden in the fall. But thinking about it now, it seems like it would be easy enough to get artists to participate without honorariums—or just to find another donor for this modest budget.
Of course a grant is good for visibility. However, I have learned over the years that hoping to be validated from the outside isn’t a position of strength. As artists, we don’t want to have to first please others in authority before we can create. We need to just go for it. However, this is much more doable if we are working in community, in collaboration, on teams, and with our friends, family, and neighbors. Money is a great resource, but when it is scarce there are substitutes.
So we’ll keep applying for things. And keep making art.

A Stitch In Stress

Life does not always co-operative with my goals or my attempts at serenity. Sometimes I have days or weeks where I’m not very creative. One of my practices is to embroider one thread a day.
I’m working on a tablecloth–mundane, printed, a kit. Cross-stitch. It’s big. Sometimes I imagine that at the rate I’m going I’ll never finish it. I gave up on following the suggested colors years ago. I’m just filling it in with blocks of whatever strikes my fancy. As cross-stitch, it mostly all goes in the same direction, until dyslexia strikes.
Really, I don’t want to finish it. It’s going to be a pretty goofy tablecloth and I suspect too large for my table. Plus, I just like cross-stitching it.

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Working New Poems Like Monoprints by Miriam Sagan

I’m so pleased to have work published in The Sunflower Collective. Here is a section, and the beautiful image chosen accompany the poetry. Click on the link to see it all.

in the ruins
of the lost city
you ask—where
did these people go?
and the dead
open one eye
surprised for just a moment
by our footsteps

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Beat inspired Artwork by Divya Adusumilli

Have been working very differently of late. Last October was productive, when my daughter Isabel and I were collaborating at Wildacres in NC. Came home and plunged into prose—draft of a speculative novel, 1000 cups of coffee project, Bluebeard’s Castle material on my father. By mid-spring, I realized i had written NO poetry at all in almost six months, with the exception of haiku as part of a collaboration with my friend Michael Smith. I was stunned, and a bit scared. Well, maybe not that worried as I have many decades of trust in creative process, but surprised.
I started writing poetry in a different manner. I think of the current work as mono prints—I get one pass. The motion is very rapid, associative, and I’m hoping—lucid. Working on making the syntax authoritative even if the meaning is mysterious. Anyway, magazines seem to like them!
The eight poems or sections here are present as one work, which looks good, I think. They were written individually. There are clusters and sequences in the entire project that I can’t see yet.

The Porches

I’ve been to about twenty writers’ residencies in the past 40 years. These have been widely varied,from granddaddies Yaddo and MacDowell with spacious studios and three squares a day to a small trailer out in Great Basin at the edge of a bombing range. In Iceland, an active volcano loomed outside the window. In Petrified Forest, I was the only person sleeping in the park, in a WPA style cabin rattled by the spring wind. At the Betsy Hotel, my stay came with beach towels and use of umbrella seating.
Each place has its advantages, its irritants, its adventure. I like to go just to…go. I was glad to discover The Porches in Central Virginia as a way to break our cross-country trip, our visits with friends and family, a bit of a quest to see how others are dealing with community, relationship, retirement (and work), and aging.
One fortunate thing in my life is that my ability to write seems timeless—it takes me out of myself. So I enjoyed that this week.
The Porches is gracious, peaceful, and a great setting for creative endeavor. It costs more than fully funded places like the near-by VCCA (where you are still asked for a donation) but less than the B & B equivalent. It reminded me more of the international residencies than the ones in the U.S.—not super competitive, simple application, and available for a short term stay. Some of these, at least in Scandinavia, tend to be “artists’ houses” funded by the state which you can use as a visitor or as a part of a writer’s union or group.

The musings below are from my ongoing 100 Cups of Coffee project—I’m over a third of the way through. Have been developing it partially on the blog—sometimes taking out the coffee context. Thanks for reading!

http://www.porcheswritingretreat.com/

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The Porches. In my room—a rather fancy cozy B & B style room, a large painting hangs, showing a bend in the road. The blacktop curves away to the left, and it and the shoulder disappear into grassy hills with blue and purple/black mountains behind. Four white trees stand in a grove and the road, with its white dividing line, leads beyond the viewer’s vision.
Yesterday drove just such a winding road with Rich to drop me for three days at this charming house and garden, to write.
Wisteria climbs up the column of the second story porch rail. At 8 am it’s almost too hot out, and I’m glad I already went for a walk. Green hills stretch before me, imperturbable.
I look in the mirror, hoping for wisdom, finding a familiar face.
Dead insects, who writhed towards the light.
I don’t remember what I dreamed.

***

A garden. As always, it seems, the head of a woman, neoclassical, in stone or clay. Or maybe she is a pot, with a fern growing out of her head to signify…thought…or dream.
Pink geraniums, wicker furniture, the sound of a train cuts through my sense of solitude, intensifying it.
A train going somewhere, indifferent to this hamlet with its locked church, its historical marker, one or two cars passing early on a Sunday morning, the feeling of…being left behind.
The train implies elsewhere, a lot of elsewheres, but since it will not stop, takes no passengers, and will not slow enough—even in my imagination—for me to jump it I stay here with the bees in a bush of soft mauve flowers. With my pills for what ails me in advanced middle age, my modest hand wash, a pile of silky embroidery thread for a too large cross-stitch tablecloth I may never finish. And a novel I appear to have finished the first draft of just this morning, and not exactly on purpose.

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