Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Aren't You Done Yet?

Writing is never done, as in finished. I think it was Robert Frost who said that we finally abandon a poem. I'm trying hard not to abandon a whole lot of poems and stories, but ennui has set in, a preference for mindless TV and watching the birds in the backyard. I'm strangely attracted to dead- heading petunias, watering day lilies, feeding the neighbor's cats while she's traveling. I am not much attracted to putting the last efforts into a chapbook that is 90% done or working on one that has been long out of print and deserves, maybe, reissue. I cannot bring myself to edit or revise or create new. I have kept my promise to an online group in which we each write a new piece per week and share them. But even with this project, I'm hiking uphill.

Maybe this is summer sloth. It's hot and getting hotter. Of course, I have nothing to complain of: not digging ditches or fighting wildfires. Not training horses or planting row on row of garden produce. Not harvesting lettuce. So many things that I don't have to deal with. So why drag around my chosen work as if it were a bag of rocks? Fear. Fear of finishing and having no excuse to avoid the inevitable criticism that follows publication. As long as all these stories and poems sit quietly in their ms boxes and notebooks, no one can tell whether I'm a hack or not. No one but me and my inner critic. I wish she would go on vacation. I'd feed her cats. Oh, wait, she doesn't have cats. She has me, her pet iguana with as much talent with words as a lizard sunning on a rock.

Monday, June 20, 2011


This weekend I did two things that taught me something about my ability as a writer. First, I visited a friend's home that impressed me with its decor and serenity. Muted palette, lots of white, old moldings and door brasses retained or replicated, uncluttered space, kitchen appliances disguised as cabinetry. But my description falls flat, lacks spice and depth. The other thing I did was to read excerpts from Jack Kerouac's prose. And beat my fist against my forehead. How is it he can put me right into a buggy, deep Mexican night so effectively and I cannot say just how it felt to be in that elegant home that I visited?

I let my frustration steep and started over in my journal. Only when I added action to the mix did I begin to catch what I had seen. Experience--that's action. Otherwise I am a visitor in a museum, feasting only with my eyes. Kerouac acted in response to the mosquitoes that shredded his skin to hamburger. He took off his shirt and put it back on. He climbed onto the roof of the car to sleep. He spoke to a sleepy constable. A perfectly designed and decorated room does not move. People in it have to run their fingers over an antique music cabinet, sit in the padded wicker chairs, peer into the bird cage, empty but for three large blue eggs. Someone has to eat off the perfectly yellow plates and drink from the sparkling stemware. Without action, the scene is a still life; with action it becomes life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

More Food

Last week I was moaning about having committed my time to prepping for a course scheduled for the 2011-12 year, Literature of Food. This week I'm loving that prep, not quite the same as being a prep cook, but I have found some tasty bits to add to my course notes. A delicious source is Alimentum, a periodical out of Nashville, TN. It comes twice yearly and is packed with fiction, poetry, art, and nonfiction, all centered on food, its delights and dangers, but mostly delights. Interesting bit of synchronicity too--last week a friend suggested that we begin looking for poems that contain recipes. And here on the masthead of Alimentum is Esther Cohen, Menupoems Editor! Nice.

An interview in the Summer 2011 issue, which I carried around all day yesterday and read in a succession of coffee shops (one of those I've-run-away-from-home days) features Amanda Hesser. She is described in the intro as a former "kitchen runner and bread truck driver" who "picked grapes in France, made pretzels in Germany, and cleaned rabbits in Italy." I'm not thinking too hard about that last job, unsure whether she bathed bunnies or butchered them. Anyway, she was also the food editor at the New York Times, a much better line on the resume than cleaning rabbits, I suspect. So now I'm off to search the Kindle Store for her book Eat, Memory. I love this kind of research--the kind that falls into my hands from casual reading. Yummy!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writing about Food

Please, think deeply before you volunteer to teach a course on writing about food. Think deeply about the history of food, its importance, its implications, its impossible size as a topic of study. I gaily sailed into this ocean, puffed along in my little boat of a book, The Great Hunger. I wrote that book and thought that my abilities as a poet meant that I knew something about the literature of food. Ha! Writing about food as a general idea, reading about food as a hobby--this way madness lies. What I wanted to do was look at how food shows up in literature. But, glutton that I am, each book or article led to another and soon I was drowning in a sea of ideas and information. Will I ever find home port, that place of certainty and comfort?

The answer is: no, I won't. I'll bob around in this oceanic topic, at the mercy of the wind and the memory of my Grandma's cooking, my own culinary disasters and triumphs (yes, a few) and enjoy the ride. I have an outline for the ten week course that will keep us, more or less, on course, but each participant will have to map her own way, set her own destination. I'll wave to them from my little vessel and watch them sail off into a world of reading and writing and discovery about our most basic need and highest art.