Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Morning Quote: A. Alvarez on Doneness

As someone who writes prose for a living and poems when I get lucky, I assure you that the two activities are curiously different. No matter how many times you rewrite prose or how easily it seems to read when you are done with it, prose is never quite finished. There is always a word ill-chosen or out of place, a repetition you missed, an adjective that could be cut, a comma that should have been a semicolon—something to set your teeth on edge when you reread it later in cold print. Poems don't work like that. They are as intricate as the giant locks on a bank vault: each one of the dozens of tumblers has to click into place before the door will swing open. A poem, I mean, isn't finished until every word is precisely weighted and precisely placed, and if the poet is serious, he knows, to his sorrow, when he has it wrong and it won't let him rest. Once he's got it right, however, he knows with equal certainty that there is nothing more to be done; he has produced something that, for the time being, is as near perfect as he can make it. And that is a satisfaction worth sweating for.

—A. Alvarez, The Writer's Voice

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Morning Quote: William Stafford on What a Writer Is

In an effort to post more regularly, read more widely on craft, and inspire myself to make every week a good writing week, I'm instituting a new feature: the Monday morning quote. Each week on Monday I'll post a quote about writing—or reading, or art more generally—in this space. Sometimes I'll have something to say about it; sometimes I'll let it stand by itself. Suggestions and contributions welcome!

Here's this week's quote:
A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

—William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl
I love the way this gets at the indirect nature of the process and the very dotted line between the original intent and the finished product. It reminds me, too, how much the pleasure of writing is the surprise of seeing what comes out on the page.

I owe my introduction to William Stafford to Ellen Steinbaum's blog, Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe, which I recommend to you and which includes a lovely post that is particularly relevant in this, my contest-mad year: Confessions of a Poetry Contest Judge.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I wrote a snarky little satire of a rejection letter as a bookend to my posting on acceptance, but I've decided I'm not yet ready to murder my fledgling writing career.

Instead, I'm going to talk about how much I actually like my pile of rejection letters. When I used to send out my work in batches of one or two, the wait for a response seemed interminable and the rejections were bitterly disappointing. Now I send out so many that it is, as my fellow Cow Skull Julie once said, kind of an empty day when there are no SASEs in the mailbox.

For someone like me, who is good at starting essays but not so awesome at finishing them, it's positive reinforcement to look at my pile of rejections (an inch thick now!) and realize that I've actually completed essays that I don't despair of entirely and that I'm doing the work of sending them out and getting them in front of editors. When I look at those letters these days, I see that I am keeping myself in the game.

Go me!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lily Beth, Queen of the Mulch Pile

Thanks to Ed for the picture!