Friday, January 27, 2012

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer Interview with Lisa Lutwyche

Lisa Lutwyche
Here's yet another A Room of Her Own Foundation Summer 2011 Retreat Interview; I know we can't all get away for a retreat (airfare, child-care, time away from the spouse/family, work, the cat, the dog, the novel manuscript, you name it).

Even though I was there at Ghost Ranch, I hate to say I missed out on Lisa’s Desert Delight Workshop (when I finally heeded our retreat organizer's advice to rest, to pace the inflowing surges of ideas about writing, hiding out for a few moments on the mesa that day). But I love that I get a mini-harvest here with Lisa anyway as she describes the cross-over between painting and writing. I hope to get the chance to work with her at one of AROHO’s future retreats.

Looking back on your history teaching night creative writing and watercolor courses, did the two disciplines/genres ever cross-pollinate in your classroom? Do you teach both watercolor and creative writing in one class as well? Can you give those of us “closet painter/writers” an example of an exercise we might use?

Interestingly, the two genres did work with each other, although never as a class taught specifically combining the two.  I’ve often said that poetry is very much like watercolor in terms of brevity, commitment (you can’t really erase watercolor; it’s a staining process) and learning to love the “accident.”  When I sit down to write a poem, I often approach it as a watercolor “wash,” a quick brushstroke of words used to capture an impression, whether it’s a visual or an emotional impression (or both).  When I did the workshop at AROHO, I had the artists/writers look around and paint what they saw, then use the “watercolor words” to write a painterly piece of writing about it.  That might make a good exercise.  In fact, the first poem I ever wrote (that wasn’t for a school assignment) was a visual impression because I didn’t have my paints with me!  Read more here.

I followed up with a bonus question here... (an exclusive additional fragment for my Feral Mom readers). I asked Lisa "What do you mean by "watercolor words?" And here's the poetry of her answer:

As for the "Watercolor Words," we used color words from watercolor sets, but we also used fruit words and fabric words and words from nature, all of which make their way onto paintboxes and colored pencils.

Think of this sort of thing:

A canteloupe sky, an alizarin crimson sunrise, a celadon sea, a sienna field, or distant cobalt hills.

It's just a deeper way of thinking of colors, and a good way to describe even moods.
Beautiful, Lisa. Thank you! Now I really can't wait to work with you....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Announcing Mother Writer Mentor: Practical Tips for Writing Moms

I’m very excited to announce a sister site to the literary e-zine The Fertile Source called Mother, Writer, Mentor: Practical tips for Writing Moms.

This project has long personal roots reaching back to the year my second son was born. Fridays, thanks to the support of my father and his wife, were the day I got to sneak away and maintain my secret life as a writer over at Coffee Catz in Sebastopol. Owner Debbie, while sweeping the crumbs out from under my feet, would stop and ask how the babies were, smile, and listen to my dreams of pursing my writing.

Those Fridays (writing--when I wasn’t catching up with Debbie) along with my subscription to Poets and Writers kept me sane; I’d scope out the very back section where P&W lists specific calls for entries using the deadlines to create new work. Fresh from a disorienting experience with a midwife-attended-birth, I came across an ad for birth story essays. I wrote an essay and fired it off into the void.

The editor took it; some time elapsed between then and the actual publication of the book. I got cold feet; the feminist in me wondered how I could publish an essay that not only touched on date rape, but shed midwifery in a negative light. I retracted the essay. But the editor called me one afternoon. What could I stand to edit out so I could live with it in print? she asked. And we spent the better portion of an hour salvaging the essay.

I remember getting off the phone and thinking how unusual, and lovely, it was to have an extra set of compassionate eyes right where I was blind and that planted the seed for me to imagine a writing life in which I worked with other like minded individuals or co-collaborators to realize my professional writing goals.

Several years later, after helping promote the birth anthology (Labor Pains and Birth Stories), working side by side with that editor (maybe you’ve guessed by now, I’m speaking here of Jessica Powers, founder of Catalyst Book Press), it was easy for me to say yes when Jess asked if I’d like to come on board as poetry editor at The Fertile Source.

Since then, we’ve had number of ideas up our sleeves about how the world could stand to be a friendlier place for writing moms. Mostly questions. Like why isn’t there childcare offered at most writing conferences? Or scholarships that cover childcare? Or writing retreats for families? We also liked the idea of fledged mentors (children no longer in diapers, though maybe still underfoot, or in college or beyond) offering their support to new mothers.

These were some of the conversations behind the desire to create Mother, Writer, Mentor. While we develop the resource portion of the site, and in keeping with a vision of the kind of teaching lives we’d like to have (working with writing moms) we’ll each be offering a course this spring (from yours truly: To the Cradle and Beyond: Excavating and Writing the Poetry of Motherhood and from Jess: Sexy Mommy Stories: Writing Romance Back into Motherhood).

I would love it if you’d consider guest posting for us down the road or sharing your ideas about how we can offer a resource or two for the writing mothers in your life. Jess wrote last week about the changes to writing life since the birth of her son; I took over this week to look at writing while traveling with kids, dog in tow.

I Write, I Mother

I’ve posted at Feral Mom, Feral Writer for five years now, blogging a random act of desperation I took so I’d have a writing deadline when I was nursing my third child and wondering if I’d ever get back the brain-cells that seemed to be siphoned out with the breast milk. But I’m seriously considering a dog blog: Thorn In My Side: Not Your Usual Dog Lover’s Blog. Because I both love and can’t stand the fact that having launched all three children (the youngest started kindergarten this fall), I suddenly have a fourth. She’s the runt of the litter, a beautiful, troublesome Siberian Husky my husband brought home to protect our family for the times he has to work away from us.

I’m walking the black borealis of the glittering diamonds of sand, signature of last night’s rhythmic retreat of the tide, wishing mother earth were not mere metaphor but an actual entity with the power to keep my three children alive for the duration of this week’s vacation in San Diego. My husband works til five, so solo I’m tracking three bobbing black dots, the chinned hoods of our children, one child boardless, drifting further out, a little in trouble I realize as I walk towards the surf zone dragging the reluctant Husky, the lifeguard pulling up behind me, megaphone chirping as he orders my flailing eight year old to stay where he can stand because of the rip tide.

Read more here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer, An Interview with Catherine Shubert

Catherine Shubert
In an effort to share the bounty of last summer’s AROHO (A Room of Her Own Foundation) retreat, I will continue the cross-posting of interviews with retreat participants; last month I had the chance to catch up with writer, teacher, study abroad student Catherine Shubert.

We understand you attended Oxford University as a study abroad student—any desire to tell us about that experience and how it translated into your writing? Does your work teaching Spanish in the Teach For America program find its way into your writing as well?

At Oxford, I had 1-2 tutorials for an hour or two each week, which were conducted one-on-one with an advanced literary scholar. I presented an 8-10 essay for each tutorial, and in the days leading up to the tutorial, I was meant to be reading, researching, and crafting my writing. I was on my own in the stacks, making sense of literature and ideas for myself. This was vastly different from the lecture-group discussion experience at universities in the States, so it was a difficult but worthwhile adjustment. All in all, it forced me to tackle the challenge of developing my own voice, thereby making me a better writer. I think as a woman it was an especially strengthening experience for me, since Oxford has historically been a male-dominated institution.         Read more here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blast Furnace Live with Poem for Jack Foco

Painting by Jack Foco
The autumn issue of Blast Furnace has arrived; poems circle a posse of familiars from Morgan Le Fey, Pushkin, librarians, King Kong and St Francis to Icarus, Snow White, and Eve, all thanks to editor/publisher Rebecca Clever.

An additional poem for a painter I knew and loved in Iowa City joins this mostly immortal line-up; I’m pleased to have the poem “Nine days before he died, the crows came at dawn” for Jack, painter, appearing at the comet’s end of the issue as well.

This one goes out to those of us who knew and loved Jack all those Midwest afternoons out at the Art Farm…

Notes on Jack from an earlier post can be read here.

Since posting the above text, I've heard from a number of my Iowa City friends. I asked Laurie if I could post the poem she wrote about Jack as well. I would love to hear from anyone else from our heartland time--if you have any artwork or writing you'd like to post in tribute to Jack, please contact me.

Anticipating the Afterlife      by Laurie Klemme

In memory of Jack Foco
March 13, 1950-November 10, 1998

On a warm day, for the pleasure of watching a bird
spread his wings against an autumn sky, a warm day, a slight
breeze, not much, his easy glide, white on a blue field
deep as the moment we lived in this afternoon. Jack, Ali, and I, alive
in this one moment, alive in one another’s time,

For the privilege of watching the bird, feeling
the breeze, the new silage in even rows stretching the landscape
over one of the hills he’s painted. We go in
to see his paintings. He enjoys this, us
here, changing the light, picking the features we like
best, the paintings we like best.
They’ve begun to resemble each other---a new focus, things
have lost their meaning,

An emerging preoccupation
with the field,

The white bird, gliding above it,

... this morning. He thought it was going to be
this morning that the sides met, a moment lifted him
from him, if that’s what’s next. And we talked at
what is next, the dream about the Light, the meaning
of Honesty, the freedom it is, everything okay.

I thought of Dante and reality’s authority.

He held his daughter’s hand.

Other poems by Laurie Klemme can be read here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Phantom Narratives and the Reel Picture

Photo by  Robyn Beattie
…and I don’t meant zombie narratives, though my husband has a stellar idea for one of his own and is halfway through Volume 2 of The Walking Dead. Nor will I be addressing the Phantom of the Opera. I’m talking instead about the subterranean corridors one paces when the imagination gets fired by the unchecked reptilian force of jealousy, as mine erroneously was this past month.

One of the exquisite metaphors for projected infidelity resides in this cinematic jewel from the film Sylvia (the version directed by Christine Jeffs, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the poet and the devilishly handsome, pre-Bond, pre Dragon Tattoo Daniel Craig as the other poet, Hughes). Sylvia sits alone in a room partitioned by a piece of mottled glass behind which Hughes and a female friend wash dinner dishes.

As the pair behind glass pass back and forth, you see what Sylvia sees: their bodies reduced to mottled chunks of color morphing out of their borders, overlapping, merging. Actually, you see Sylvia’s fear: where does her husband end and the woman begin? Was the affair inevitable, already ignited, or did the intensity of Sylvia’s gaze, and later, her jealousy, goad Hughes into the woman’s arms?

In good company with many a girl poet of my generation, I remember (at the naïve age of 19) stepping out of the pristine order of Plath’s poetry and circling her life, which really meant hunting Ted, blaming Ted, for Sylvia’s destruction; if only he’d been faithful, if only he hadn’t burned her journals, think what else she’d have written, as if Sylvia didn't have any vulnerabilities or failures, as if she belonged to all of us, women poets in particular, as if I personally knew, an attitude with an attendant voyeuristic hovering in the couple’s collective corona replete with light and distortions meant only for them.

Fast forward ten years: as a new mother, watching the film, I no longer could side with Sylvia. As the camera pulled up towards the ceiling over the cribs of her children, the window ajar to allow air, I folded with grief on their behalf, the image of my infant and toddler at home with their father calling up an unreasonable desperation to return home to them.

With an additional decade of motherhood behind me, I know none of us can tease apart the multiple truths wrapped around another human being’s fate. Best to transmute one’s ire at the young poet husband into an inquiry of the inadequacies of the human fabric we’ve woven that fails to support both women and men in their individual quests (raising a family and trying to fulfill both the wife and the husband’s life dreams, wether poet, soldier, diva, carpenter, farmer, priest). Better yet, to let Sylvia go, in peace, unsolved.

Other writers have done a much finer job of sorting through the psychological debris of how she came to no longer write poems or raise her children, including April Bernard, in her precise and lovely essay My Plath Problem (from By Herself, Women Reclaim Poetry, edited by Molly McQuade).

I agree with Bernard when she writes, “It is naïve to think that we can unlearn the biography and read the poems free from the pollution of context. But my hope is that by dragging myself, (and you, reader) through the maze of biography, we will have found ‘the best way out,’ which, as Robert Frost had it, ‘is always through.’” Bernard includes in the heart of her essay two reveries playing with the same sets of facts about Sylvia to create a Good Sylvia and a Bad Sylvia fairytale which lets us simultaneously err on the extreme end of two polar ways of perceiving Plath’s plight.

And still, here as I make my peace with Plath, I willl still say that if you are female, writing, attracted to men, considering mothering or finding yourself a mother in a marriage, you will perhaps at some point feel there’s something to be gained by examining Sylvia’s story. What if your lover, while courting you to core growth, fails in the end to alchemize your potential, but stills it somehow, stills you, or helps you on your way to still yourself? Or turn it around, what if you do the same to your lover, or worse, to yourself?

How complicated we are….

Detail from plate 133, Jung's Red Book
And fragmented on our way to eventual wholeness. I’m thinking of the facets of face from one of the color plates in Jung’s Red Book. Tiny blue and pinkish white tiles make up a face, they tilt towards various centers, say the eyes, for two.
I’m thinking too of “will”--how we can be pulled by the will of others in a kind of centrifugal mirror, each living thing around us pulling energy from us, that we simultaneously emanate our own energy and pull in the energy of others, bodily vortices.

So it matters—to choose a life mate carefully, to commit to stewardship of oneself, to respect the dance of opening and closing the borders of one’s mind as a what one can of oneself while passing through. To give one-self a few quiet moments of “stop” for truce, a gap, long enough for integration, for the energies of fear and reptile to recede.

In one such gap, I shed the month’s grip of jealousy (mine) and its attendant phantom narratives (mercifully, unlike as was the case for Sylvia, absolutely unfounded). Which left me free to enjoy the family and the husband I actually possess.

When I woke, returned more or less, it was to a moment in the early dark of winter, driving the curves of Pocket Canyon, a pomegranate in a gingerbread man bag tied with a red ribbon to hand off, my ten year old ballerina heading (with a backpack full of Monday’s homework and a ball of yarn skewered with wooden knitting needles) towards another ten year old ballerina racing expectantly down the moss covered steps with a smile on her face.

I grabbed my girl’s arm and battled a few yards of scarf to find her warm cheek, frantic to plant a last kiss. Which she tolerated. Without a backward glance, she pulled her arm out of my hand, scrambling up the three flights of stairs to a house on the side of a hill in the sleepy little town of Guerneville. “We’ll take good care of her,” my friend promises, that knowing glance passing between us. A little quiet at our home, a sacrifice of trust to let my girl go, just for one night, and here I am missing her already as she sidles away.

At home, my husband’s drawing the outdoor bath, adding wood to the cast iron stove that sits on the stone patio beneath the redwoods. When he heard about the sleepover, he said, “Do you have to go now? I just fired this up for us…” And I’d promised to be back in half an hour, the boys shooting their pellet guns off the deck at the largest of the pumpkins listing to one side, still holding shape despite its molding innards, the Husky nipping at the kitten’s back.

There’s yet Pinot and vanilla ice cream to buy, so I drive the length of Main Street making a mental note of where I’ll do my last minute shopping far from the mall crowds: Hemp and Chocolate for truffles, River Reader for a book and calendar or two, Guerneville 5 and Dime where the woman behind the counter last time made other customers wait while my daughter counted out her change from her piggy bank, proclaiming with a smile, “Honey, you’ll use math for the rest of your life. You take your time, go ahead.”

My boys are only a fifteen minute drive away. There’s nowhere else I want to be, but there, now, as I rush out of the fluorescent light of Safeway, this last task between stars and wine and heat…can’t wait, can’t wait to sink down into the hot lavender water, wrestle my husband’s thighs for a spot, the wet stone of the patio glittering from tub to stove, stars visible in the tree canopy, three quarter moon casting its blue light further past the ring of our fires’ light onto the road descending from the ridge above us.

Photography of Robyn Beattie:

Oct 2013 additional reading:

Posted at Rattle: A Review by Paul-John Ramos of  HER HUSBAND: TED HUGHES & SYLVIA PLATH – A MARRIAGE by Diane Middlebrook (Penguin Books)

October 2015:

Posted at The Guardian: Sylvia Plath's suicide note--did it name a final lover? by Jonathan Bates