I’ve come to some kind of understanding about what it means for me to be in the act of making….If I’m reading a book, I’m not stuck. If I go to an exhibition, a show, have a drink with friends—if I’m out and I’m engaged with the world, I’m not stuck. If I’m staring at a blank page, frustrated that I can’t get a word out, I am still in the act of making—and to be honest those moments where I can’t produce a thing have been valuable to me, because in some ways it gets me to where I need to be. Some days I want to write, other days I just want to get behind my DJ controller.
I experience my corner of the poetry community as very generous and caring, but I have many issues with professionalizing poetry as a career with certain prizes and residencies you ‘have to’ achieve—it can make people greedy, competitive, and encourage a perception of the world based on lack. I think the poetry community works better when it is cooperative and generous. Poetry shouldn’t be just another capitalist product.
“I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. I believe in fallow periods. I believe fallow periods are necessary to restore the fertility of a field. I believe that if you’re not writing and you’re worried about not writing, you’re likely to one day write again. That if you’re not writing and not worried about not writing, you may have found new things to do with your time, and that’s okay too.”
—Camille T. Dungy, in “Say Yes to Yourself: A Poet’s Guide to Living and Writing” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
Sometimes writing these poems was a reminder that I was still alive and sometimes I resented the reminder.
When my writing gets stuck, I’ll clear time to sit with my last few months of reading spread around me, copying out my marginalia along with the passages I flagged and underlined. I have this massive document of annotations I’ve been adding to for years, a habit I started when I was an undergrad. I write short paragraphs about how I came across a text, what my major takeaway was, what was happening for me personally while I read it, how long it took me to finish, and what else I was reading at the time….
Initially, I believed that I was just writing a series of sad love poems, and then about halfway through drafting the book I realized that I was writing about grief and power and self-abandonment and rage. The poems are about my own experiences with abusive relationships, so changing my mind about the book also meant changing my mind about my life….
When the words won’t come, I take my work for a walk. Literally, I put pages in my pocket and take a hike in an unfamiliar place. The idea is that both me and my writing could use the stretch of a new environment. Put your hand on it every day, no matter what, is my philosophy….Most important is faith. Stay close to the story and, ultimately, it will return to you.
One of the most profound things [Mat Johnson] said was to just relax. Readers can sense when you’re tense.
“Translators don’t just use language—we shape it. This is true of everyone, but more than most we have the opportunity to carve the language into new forms, to graft onto it from other cultures. Language is not a static phenomenon, and we are not passive consumers of it. The choices we make are amplified as we create a body of work, as we teach and pass on our process.”
—Jeremy Tiang, in “The Art of Translation: Many Englishes, Many Chineses” in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
When the writing is slow or when I’m between projects, I pull on my boots and head to an art museum. Museums dilate us. Our job is to stay open and look…. What happens as we look depends entirely on the looker and what is being looked at. But something inevitably happens—you love it and look more deeply, you hate it and wonder why, you remember something, your mood shifts, an image emerges, a line of thinking starts to lead you in an unexpected direction….