Monday, June 13, 2016

Rollin' and Writin'

Here I am, rolling out of Oroville, California, Highway 70, south on the Amtrak Thruways bus to Sacramento, where I will board the eastbound Zephyr. 

Time to work a bit on my short story "Perchance Beneath a Quince Tree." I revised it some on the way out from Iowa to California, and now I have some more time. 

Well, time to get to work! Thanks to my iPhone 6+, I can work on the go without too much equipment. I just have to be careful "typing," what with the rock and roll of the bus and train. 

Posted from my iPhone 6+.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Review: Walking the Refuge, by Glenn Watt

One can easily imagine poet Glenn Watt out in a field or copse of trees, silently intent on the myriad life surrounding him, especially the bird life. In Walking the Refuge, 2015 winner of the Blue Light Poetry Prize, finishing the last poem completed my education on how these wildlife  refuges we establish are ultimately and equally not only havens for wildlife but also for ourselves, classrooms where we can re-learn that most simple state of ourselves. 

Watt is a skilled poet who uses his craft to weave around the reader the reality of the world we have imagined away. He describes the business of the world beyond human habitation, establishing windows that we look through and see nature, slide open and feel the breeze and smell the rain, climb through if we still retain the agility to re-capture what we perhaps had as children--being truly and totally in a particular place and moment. For Watt (and through him for ourselves) the myriad birds that inhabit these refuges are our spirit guides. In this sense his poetry stands along with the journals of Thoreau, Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End, and Robert Hass’s Field Guide (1973).

A significant number of the poems are one sentence long, extended images, tone poems inspired by the poetry of original perception. In “Fledgling,” the single sentence is a question, whether a kestrel's life is a compilation of impressions which matures to a “familiarity, a kind of affection/ for what is.” In “Keeping Score,” Watt plays with the word score as both tally and music of “twitchy short-tailed tones/ teased out of the tune.”

Here is an appropriate point to mention Watt’s adept prosody, his use of alliteration, assonance, line break, and stanza which provide structure and intensity precisely where needed, like swallows swooping through evening shadows. His greatest strength (as it should be) is his use of sense imagery, as seen in his exquisite use of color in the poem “...the myriad petals…” where we are given a “pilfered glimpse” of “bloody/ mauves and violets, molten oranges/ and icy turquoise-blues” from the palette of nature.

Watt also displays the ability to write poems with strong closure, imbuing his finely honed images with significance. He begins “Nelson’s Sharp-Tail” with questions about creation (and I should probably capitalize the C):

Who wouldn't want to replicate it? Who wouldn't 
want to make it again and again new?

This winged creation, an ocheraceous mixture, as the poet says, of ocher and outrageous (his take on his reference book’s word choice), is “tossed … into the willows.” The poem ends:

And then, as all things of beauty do, it fled.

Watt’s poetry reminds us that we should not take nature for granted, much less with disdain. He reminds us that the Common Yellowthroat is not so common except within the restrictions of our perception. We should hope and wait, be eager to experience being “momentarily shoulder to shoulder/ in the weeds” with our spirit guides, that these wild birds in their natural habitats are not so different than us--only more elegant and gracious in their colors, more harmonious in their song, spirit reminders who have come, as Watt writes,

over from that other world
to haunt for a little while longer 
                                      yit yit yit

this one. 

--posted from my iPhone 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On the Go

What I'm finding is that I'm really enjoying my activity right now.

Gardening, bicycle riding, grandchildren, quality time with my wife--so the oddity is that I realize that most of my writing work right now is going to be on my iPhone 6+! Funny thing, but working on my phone gives me the chance to write without sitting myself down during this beautiful May springtime.

The peonies and irises are blooming, and the bees are loving the comfrey. Small green peaches and cherries have set, the peaches a soft fuzzy green and the cherries like tiny electric-green tree ornaments. The peas are in blossom and pods maturing. We are eating fresh kale and chard, and our season of asparagus is finished. 

This morning Sandy and I rode our bikes on the Fairfield Loop Trail, through Jefferson County Park, and on local back roads. It was overcast and not too hot, and we meandered and enjoyed the exercise, the fresh air, and our time together. 

I am writing this to begin again, to remind myself that my life need not be an "either/or." I'm also sharing along with documenting, part of the journaling process. 

Life is good--always and at least at the moment. Good night, all. 

--posted from my iPhone 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Looking Back at Revision

For me, revision is an intuitive process. When I say that, though, I should add that I feel that intuition is mind working at a fine level of the intellect. Intellect and “feeling” work together, each augmenting the other.

The revision of tightening (deleting), expanding (adding), and polishing (substituting) works first on what feels right, but there is always the quiet voice of the intellect providing the reasons for the feeling.

As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to write my beginnings many times before moving on. Those rewrites are where I emphasize tone and word flow. Once the words create the tone (once the tone feels right), then I move on to finishing the rough draft.

Below, I’ve provided two excerpts from my Wattpad page where the story “A Murmuration of Dragons” is posted as two parts, the first being the finished story (unless I change it), and the second being the first draft of the story (and by that, I mean the story after I’d established tone and then pushed through for the first time).

With this short story, I see the revision has focused the prose more on tone and immediate experience rather than backstory, even though I am filling in and establishing the reality of the story. I think the revision works more to move the story to its climax by establishing an emotional context.

Other readers might like the original, actually! This post is a closure for me. I’m looking forward to moving on to another project, another story--at least, for now. Read, enjoy, and maybe even read the other stories posted on Wattpad. They are the two shorter stories of the three short story ebook "Who Listened to Dragons."

Excerpt from the revised (completed) story

Garden lore says "weeds for the wildwood," that every vegetable patch should have a spot uncultivated, that "wholly wild is holy wild." Perhaps craft elders felt the same and left Dragon's Head untouched. Superstition runs deep, even when "as dead as magic" is the common wisdom nowadays, for who has seen magic? Yes, there are stories, but who has seen magic? Our mouths do not always speak our hearts, though, and words may veil rather than reveal. Perhaps that was the way of it on Half Street because Dragon's Head was let be, and the oddity of that neglect was somehow too strangely idle a thought for busy tradefolk.

Caul said that suited him fine, Caul who ate and drank the sky above Dragon's Head, either that or nothing. He certainly slept sky, all those nights up there alone, earth for his bed and stone for his pillow.

I wouldn't admit to be looking after him from my perch on Old Jin's roof, not me, of Fingers fame and all of twelve years. It didn't take much minding, anyway. Somehow I knew he was safe when he climbed those bare bones, riding his dragon, whinnies and all.

The need to survive can birth strange and wonderful alliances, and one of boy and stone was not exceedingly strange. Who has not played at being king on the mount? Seed planted wild must root deeply, and dreams dared in sunlight burn an invisible flame.

Excerpt from the unrevised (rough draft) story

Such had not happened, though, had apparently never occurred to some greedy guildsman or ambitious matron. Dragon's Head was just let be, and the oddity of that neglect was somehow too idle a thought for busy folk, which Cobb said suited him just fine. Sometimes Cobb would look at me as he rode the stones, but he never waved and I never thought to wave at him. Cobb was a strange one, one we looked after--or would have, if he had ever needed it. He didn't, though. I think Cobb ate and drank sky. He certainly slept it, all those nights alone on Dragon's Head.

My gut told me a lot about Cobb, or maybe it was my heart. I knew that when he climbed onto those bare bones of stone and rode the dragon he was safe. It wasn't that I knew he felt safe; somehow my gut told me he was safe.

I knew in my bones he was safe on Dragon's Head, knew that he knew in his bones he was safe. No children ever challenged him sitting there in plain sight. It was as if he were veiled by wings of forgetfulness. I saw him, though, and I'll never forget what I saw.

It was a strange alliance, boy and stone, but the need to survive can birth strange and wonderful alliances. Seed planted wild must need root deeply.

I've found it an interesting process to publish a rough draft and then another, polished version of the story side by side. I don't know if I'll do this again. Probably not, but doing so has given me the opportunity to reflect some on how I create as a writer. I doubt if how I write and revise is unique, but self-reflection isn't such a bad thing.

Until the next post, good reading!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Art of Talking to Strangers

Having ridden across America on Amtrak now quite a few times, I’ve had the chance to sit next to, to break bread with, and to share life experiences with total strangers, people I will meet one time and quite possibly never again. 

This experience has been an education--both on the content level of learning about others’ lives, and on the process level of the dynamics of interacting with strangers. I don’t think I have anything new to share, nor have I learned anything new. My interactions have, however, reinforced and made me more consciously aware of some basic fundamentals of communication. 

Listen before sharing. 

Listening sends a positive message to those I am interacting with, that I am interested in more than my needs and my options. It also provides me with information, which allows me to more artfully chose what I say. It's pretty hard, really, to offend others by listening to them talk. 

Find common interests. 

We actually have quite a lot in common with other people. Entering a conversation with the intent to enjoy that which we have in common creates a unifying experience. Amtrak seats strangers together at the dining table, and sitting down with the intent to have a pleasant meal and conversation--and then acting on that intent--has effected many pleasant shared meals. And it wasn't hard. It was mostly monitoring my conversation to be inclusive and not excluding. Self-monitoring one’s conversation is a skill that gets better with practice, I can tell you. 

It's not necessary for others to agree with you. 

There is no need for indignation if someone has a different point of view, not in a social situation, anyway. One can deflect or move on rather than debate or argue. Even if the person across the table is a dumb ass, there's no need to point that out. You wouldn't be believed, anyway. 

There are some communication situations that aren't just random meals with a stranger. This election year is a good example. I’d say then to 1) self-monitor, 2) maintain a rule of politeness, 3) stick to ideas and facts, and 4) be ready to stop. Remembering to listen is probably a good idea, too. 

Avoid (or tread lightly) when traveling rocky trails. 

My dad always said the best way to have a nice chat was to avoid the topics of politics, religion, and sex. Anyone following the recent presidential debates can see what happens when one places these three topics in a bag and shakes while on national TV. With a stranger, it's best to focus on parting on cordial terms. For someone we know, it's best to focus on parting on cordial terms. Hard words create hard hearts, both in speaker and listener. 

The best way to change our environment is to change ourselves. That is where we have the most influence. Better to part with a good feeling on both sides, better to find common ground. If the person across from us ain't that kinda person, then it's best to remember who we are rather than who they aren't. 

It's always best to fall back on what my momma taught me: “There's no excuse for bad manners.” Time to bite my tongue. If it hurts, serves me right. 

(Written on Amtrak, nose to my iPhone 6+)