The Colorado Poet, #16, Fall 2011
Inside issue #16:
Writing in the Now and Not in the Know
As a poet and creative writing teacher, I’ve found the most important attitudes from which to work are those of attention and alertness. There is a certain democracy to this belief in that just about anyone is capable of being attentive and alert. If the present moment is tapped, there need not be any writer’s block since one is not striving to be wise or profound, merely present.
For a long time, I’ve held dear Kim Stafford’s essay, “Scribe to Prophet” in which he argues that it’s not our place as writers to prophesize, but instead, to record what the world (itself the prophet) says. I read this essay with my students at the outset of the semester so as to dispel, or at least lessen, their apprehensions that “they are not writers”.
In order to build the habit of being alert to the present, early in the semester my writers create a “favorite word list” patterned off of Odysseus Elytis’ list poem, Aegeodrome found in Eros, Eros, Eros: Selected and Last Poems. What Elytis seems to do is create an alphabetical list poem in which he records his personal vocabulary of the moment. Each letter of the alphabet has eight to ten (sometimes more) words/phrases listed in which one can oftentimes discern the movement as aural, that is, the sound of one word or phrase suggesting the next. As an example, I offer up one that I wrote a couple of Junes ago and titled Unthinking the Weather. [http://falsecrabapple.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/unthinking-the-weather-a-listing-of-favorite-words-and-phrases/] The whole idea of this exercise is to take inventory of the words and phrases in one’s present and accessible vocabulary (no dictionary consulted). Since we work with words, let’s be alert to what’s jangling around in the brainpan at the moment. Throughout the semester, my writers will have this list open/out so as to consult it as a “word bank” while composing other pieces. I find this exercise energizing and enjoyable anytime I am in the doldrums writing-wise.
There is a fairly new change for my writers at school: laptops.
While none of the above ideas are new, there is a fairly new change for my writers at school: laptops. My students are fortunate enough to have access to laptops in many of our classrooms. As a result, as writers, they are writing and publishing in the now and not necessarily in the know. That is, I run my laptop creative writing class with a studio approach so that we all are given the assignment but then tend to it, in the moment, on our own at our own pace not unlike art students in their studio.
Does writing and publishing on laptops help or hinder the writer/writing? I haven’t a clear answer for that one but can say that students are less concerned with “getting things right” in terms of being profound than in recording what they notice and think in the moment. Through the application of stylistic techniques as well as editing, revising and work-shopping, many of these studio-produced pieces evolve into memorable creations. I look to what Donald Revell states in his book, The Art of Attention: A Poet’s Eye to reinforce the importance of writing from the immediate: Life presents itself at velocities beyond representation, but quick attentions can quicken our poems, and then oh how prolific all presences become (25 Revell). For another impassioned commentary about the importance of attention, visit Joanna Klink’s artist’s statement.
My favorite phrase of Revell’s is that of “pious materialism”. He states that, In the poetry of attention we therefore find a pious materialism (27 Revell). Anytime I can find the intersection of wonder and the commonplace, I’ll pitch my tent and tend that fire.