Writing Exercises 101, 201, and 301

19672960271_01cb9ab1a9_o-620x477

Oh, the energy of autumnal days! Summer has its blisses, winter its purities; spring lays out romance and adventure, but these short weeks, the light falling like a voice into the distance — they grip me like nothing else. These are the days of the private pleasures of the mind opened into conversation, days in which I thrill at blank pages, new music, appointments fulfilled in the noise of crowds, and my breathe materialized in the cooling air. It’s a time of study and practice. It’s a time of education.

I don’t teach anymore, but I’ve always loved it, especially because I’ve had the fortune of driving at least a small variety of workshops, with a variety of different kinds of students at different levels of familiarity with the traditions that basically define the craft of writing. There are many ways to bend one into the doorway of this craft, and perhaps I’m emboldened by my distance from the profession, but I thought I could share some of my favorite exercises, ones I’ve either led, participated in, or simply heard about.

As is typical of my posts, I’m largely concerned with the writing of poems, but there should be plenty here for prose writers as well. I’ve divided these into the most straightforward categories imaginable — Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced — and while I have some definite reasoning for that, of course don’t feel like you need to adhere to any structure whatsoever. I’m always curious about new exercises and prompts, and I hope some of these stir some thinking for you, either as a teacher or a writer, or maybe both. The bell rings. Let’s begin. . . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review

Advertisements

A Beginner’s Guide to Submitting Work to Literary Magazines

lit-mags-620x452

For me, August is go time. I’m sitting on six or so months of poems I’ve been dutifully attending to — what represent my ambitions and quandaries of the year — and as I start to feel them ring with a sense of resonant completeness, a terrible anxiety sets in: I must do something with these. The decision to publish is definitely a personal one, and I would never suggest that writing has an end in it, but publishing is certainly a key pathway toward audience, and it’s also a way that your work can become a part of something larger. For those unaccustomed to putting themselves out there and submitting to the slush pile, as we so fondly call it, the task can be daunting and even emotionally fraught. But there are perfectly good ways to go about it that will keep you organized, give you great chances at success, and, most important — and I will argue this until the snows pile against the house — can actually help you improve your writing and how you think about it. . .

Read the guide at Michigan Quarterly Review

Rumi: A Love List of Lines

Bear-and-the-Gardener-620x588

It is an unusual experience to read the mystical poems of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi. I am — sitting in this park in Chicago, June 2016, a presidential election woefully underway, the sound of a siren and a boombox in the background, advertisements for technical athletic shoes flashing on my phone — a profoundly modern, Western reader. My knowledge of Sufism is cursory at best — I’m more inclined to know Madonna’s reading of Rumi (complete with El Cristo Redentor in the background, sure, why not), to have blasted Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from my dorm room windows, or to have seen the Whirling Dervishes in a five minute segment — mixed in with scenes from Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Wailing Wall, and other holy sites — from Baraka, which came free with my DVD player (to be fair, I’ve also seen Whirling Dervishes live, and it is a sublime experience). . . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review.

The Riches of Erasure: An Interview with Jenni B. Baker

When David Foster Wallace died in the fall of 2008, I was halfway through Infinite Jest. It was the Monday after — I walked into a coffee shop in the Loop in Chicago, about 7 AM, and I set my copy of the book down on the counter. The barista grimaced and said, “It’s so sad.” I didn’t know. That’s how I found out.

And I remember finishing the novel then. I remember the sense of urgency, as though it were evaporating there in my very hands, this three pound trade paperback with two bookmarks in it–one for the footnotes.

So when I happened upon Jenni B. Baker’s extraordinary erasure project–Erasing Infinitememories of that extremely unique and acute reading experience came flooding back. Crafting poems from each page of Infinite Jest–one at a time–this monumental project captures this sense of evaporation with remarkable force, giving us a profoundly new way of approaching the beloved text and, of course, of remembering its author.

But Erasing Infinite is but one of Baker’s many projects, which range from erasures of the Boy Scout Handbook to her OuLiPo chapbook to the journal she runs, The Found Poetry Review, all of which have secured her at the center of one of the most thriving communities of experimental poets. Looking at her work–which so often exquisitely balances play with serious inquiry–we can see just what sorts of possibilities erasure and other found forms have opened up. I recently had the chance to talk with her about these possibilities, about her different projects and the range they have helped lay out, and about how erasure sits in contemporary poetics. . . .

Read the interview and see some of Baker’s pieces at Michigan Quarterly Review.

An interview about my book with Allison Peters

I was so thrilled to have this deep conversation with Allison Peters over at one my stomping grounds, Michigan Quarterly Review, about my book, The Refusal of Suitors. We talked about the book, the nature of the city, anxiety, lifecourse, and what it means to work and love. She chose wonderful lines and asked astonishing questions. Read the entire interview here. Here’s a quick clip of her introduction:

The lyric ruminations Ryo Yamaguchi offers in his debut book of poetry, The Refusal of Suitors (Noemi Press, 2015), sink deeper than the ink on the page—and they rise up higher than the oxygen masks in the overhead compartment of the plane I was on as I read this impressive first book for the first time.

The Refusal of Suitors is a collection of poems that speaks to the you who’s on a level you’re hardly aware of—to the you who’s under there, somewhere, wondering what it’s all for and how. Ryo’s words unfold like music, his language both sharp and soft, his poems altogether dreamy in their fleeting effervescence, like city lights blinking through city smoke. (“Ode #1” ends: “This is the boulevard smudged with vacancies.”)

Reading Ryo’s poetry, it’s as if trapdoors open to hidden heart-caves between the lines, each poem glowing like an intangible peach. The words summer, flowers,and memory echo throughout the collection, melodically painting “the anxiety of landscape” with a brush of precious promiselessness.

These poems take a chance at impermanent transcendence, and it’s worth it. “What we call the beginning,” Ryo writes in “Post,” “is really just / the first thing we have recorded.” The Refusal of Suitors exists now as its own kind of record, presenting an exciting debut for the poet.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ryo about his book. (Editor’s note: you may have already met Ryo via his essays for MQR.) We discussed poetry, philosophy, anxiety, cities, love, and dreams—and about his hopes for the future.

 

Sound and Light: A Quick Tour of Recorded Poetry Archives

15327339934_b37ccf56cc_o-620x413

I’ve always found the idea of the archive startling. This is to distinguish the archive from the library in a crucial way—the archive being a preservation of ephemera: letters, ledgers, and other bureaucratic documents; marginalia, fragments, and chit-chat. This is in contrast to the library’s ordered rows of lovingly bound volumes, objects materially and commercially deemed memorable, whose memory is automated by the machinery that distributed it in the first place. The archive is memory compelled, memory deliberated, held onto, preserved like a kind of wildlife—memory forced into being.

There is a politics to this, but there is also an aesthetics—the after-effect of the force of the archive is a kind of ghosting: it hints too uncannily at history reified, at history returned to the present. The voice is physically indexed, it leaves a residue in a way it simply can’t in the ordination of the library. Nowhere can one feel this than in the archives of poetry read aloud, that most ephemeral event. In this short post, I wanted to share some of the marvelous archives of poetry readings that are available. Perhaps many of these places will be familiar to you, but here they are gathered in one place, in a brief recognition of the important work put toward the preservation of the reading. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review.

Small Press Snapshot: Timeless, Infinite Light

timeless-infinite-light-620x466

Timeless, Infinite Light is a small poetry publisher based in Oakland, but to put it that way is to sap the force out of their astonishing vigor. They are a press of the dark matter of consciousness as a nexus between heritage and the glitter of possibility, of otherness as a radical force of nature blowing tenderly but insistently against the contemporary structures of power. Their “books are spells for unraveling capitalism,” as they put it themselves, and they “believe in the radical potential of collaborative, hybrid, and embodied writing.”

I have been in love with what has grown out of these ideas. . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review