Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Conversation Representative of the Level of Fashion Discussion in Our Household

Ben: What is it with you and all this Eileen Fisher stuff?

Me: She has a system...

Ben: She has a sister?

Me: She has a system—all the tops and jackets and pants and skirts go together.

Ben: Oh, like Garanimals.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: W. H. Auden on His Poetry Apprenticeship

...[A] would-be poet serves his apprenticeship in a library. This has its advantages. Though the Master is deaf and dumb and gives neither instruction nor criticism, the apprentice can choose any Master he likes, living or dead, the Master is available at any hour of the day or night, lessons are all for free, and his passionate admiration of his Master will ensure that he work hard to please him....

My first Master was Thomas Hardy, and I think I was very lucky in my choice. He was a good poet, perhaps a great one, but not too good. Much as I loved him, even I could see that his diction was often clumsy and forced, and that a lot of his poems were plain bad. This gave me hope where a flawless poet might have made me despair. His world and sensibility were close enough to mine...so that, in imitating him, I was being led towards not away from myself, but they were not so close as to obliterate my identity. If I looked through his spectacles, I was at least conscious of a certain eyestrain.

—W. H. Auden, "Making, Knowing and Judging,"
in The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Martina Navratilova on What Champions Need

PARADE: What did you ... have that champions need?

Martina: I think the ability to fail. Not being afraid to put it all on the line and come up short. Most people don't have that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Steve Almond on What Art Does

As a broad working definition, art awakens feeling.... That is what songs do, even dumb pop songs: they remind us that emotions are not an inconvenient and vaguely embarrassing aspect of the human enterprise but its central purpose.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Recent Conversation...

... while walking Lily Beth in the Middlesex Fells:
Ben: You're pretty.

KT: I'm hungry, I have to pee, and I feel dizzy.

Ben: Well, it becomes you.
That's it—our relationship in a nutshell.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Peter Elbow on Poetry and Rules

Robert Frost said that writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net. And that having to rhyme helped him to think of words and even ideas.... Consider the writing of a poem as the playing of a game, getting the ball through a hoop, a technical problem to be solved. It may seem very unpoetic but it leads to better luck with poems.

What you need for writing poems then is some interesting games to play, that is, some interesting rules you must obey. Allen Tate once described a poet as someone "willing to come under the bondage of limitations—if he can find them."

—Peter Elbow, Writing with Power

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: The AKC on Scars

[S]cars from honorable wounds shall not be considered a fault.

I'm familiar with this quote by way of Kevin Kling's wonderful book, The Dog Says How. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Stephen Dunn on Composing Poetry

I like to talk about the composition of poems as involving a series of allegiances that we keep as long as we can, but that we're likely to modify and refine as the poem starts to insist upon itself.

Stephen Dunn, "The Guardian Angel," in Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: David Huddle on Ambiguity

After drafting the poem through to its tentative conclusion on the second morning after I'd begun it, I thought about it all day. As I carried out my errands, I conducted a craft discussion with myself about what the poem needed. I was aware that with the word "power" I'd simply named one of the poem's main thematic concerns—a move in composition that I almost always consider a mistake. Naming the theme—which usually occurs in the title or the conclusion of a work—often robs a poem of its natural ambiguity....

David Huddle, "About my 'Basket': Looking for Closure," in Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Mark Doty on Metaphor

Sometimes it seems to me as if metaphor were the advance guard of the mind; something in us reaches out, into the landscape in front of us, looking for the right vessel, the right vehicle, for whatever will serve.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Henry James on What's Important

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

—Henry James

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Inspiration Galore!

Because we here at A Brilliant Shade of Red1,2 are all about inspiration, we're sharing this link to Poet's & Writer's feature, Writers Recommend, in which the editors ask writers who have been featured in the magazine to share things that have inspired them in their writing. And though I'm a subscriber and have probably received multiple emails about this, I only noticed when it was mentioned in January Gill O'Neil's excellent blog, Poet Mom—a wonderful inspiration in its own right. Dive in and get inspired!

1That's the editorial we.
2Or possibly the royal we.3
3We're not sure.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Robert Peake on How to Write Good Poetry Every Day (or at Least Regularly)

It seems to me that poetry is a lot like photography. The secret to getting good photos, or poems, is to take a lot of shots.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Stanley Kunitz on Ending a Poem

End on an image and don't explain it.

—Stanley Kunitz

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Final Top 10 for 2009

Shakespeare Wrote for Money, by Nick Hornby
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney
The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland
The Suicide Index, by Joan Wickersham
Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan
In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction, edited by Lee Gutkind
Abide With Me, by Elizabeth Strout
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

This was not a great reading year for me—which is not a slam on the fine titles above, but only an observation that I read substantially less this year than in years past. And I'm late posting this wrap up. We'll all survive, I'm sure.

I was saddened that this year's list features the last collection of Believer columns from Nick Hornby, though of course happy to have one last, highly satisfying helping.

This is the second year in a row that the Pulitzer prize-winner has appeared on my list. This one initiated an Elizabeth Strout bender of sorts—though it's always a little disappointing to discover a new author you love and find that he or she has written anything less than 30 books. But Strout's three are all lovely and worth your time.

And though I've written about it here before, I'll say again that Art and Fear is a book I'll be reading again and again. I hope you like it too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing Like a Farmer

Last Friday I went to see the wonderful Kris Delmhorst and her band at Passim. During the course of the show, she mentioned that she used to be a farmer, and that she still writes songs like a farmer: "You plant a lot of seeds at once, and they all grow up together."

The writer friend with whom I attended the concert asked me afterwards, "Did your heart just sink when she said that?"

And I was as surprised as she when my answer was, "No, actually."

The reason is that I've started writing poetry.1 One subset of my essay writing has been getting progressively shorter and more lyric, and for a long while this has seemed the natural next step to take. The biggest holdup was finding an introductory class that assumed no previous experience with poetry, but I finally found an eight-week course at an adult education center this winter.

And I'm loving it. In part, it's that poetry seems (to me, at least) so much less all-or-nothing than prose. The stakes on any individual poem are smaller. Don't like how it turned out? Throw it away! I haven't invested weeks or months exclusively in getting it right. Switching between works doesn't require the same level of effort. And revision is so much less painful, for reasons I have yet to understand. I know that all this should also be the case with prose, but that has always been more of a struggle for me.

Best of all, now I write like a farmer. Four weeks into my poetry class I've got four poems that are drafted and are cooling down for revision, two I'm actively working on, and two more in my head trying to build up the critical mass they need to get written.

Maybe it's just the change or a new set of goals rather than poetry per se, but I feel more productive than I have in years.

1 Because, you know, the number of people who read literary creative nonfiction is way too high.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Steve Almond on Persistence

Five different agents declined to represent CandyFreak. The publisher of Metal refused to even read a draft. My point is this: agents and editors sometimes don't know shit. When they reject your work, take it as your mission to prove them wrong.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Outtakes from the Legendary Cow Skulls

When the Cow Skulls first started meeting, almost six years ago, we were scrupulously faithful to the workshopping guidelines from Grub Street, where we all met. We started every meeting with a prompt and free-write, went around the table in turns offering a balance of positive comments and constructive criticism, didn't allow the author to speak until after everyone else had had a say.

Our meetings these days are much less structured and more collaborative—a kind of group therapy for prose. Ideas about a piece change over the course of the discussion, the author participates throughout, and the final take on an essay or story my be something none of us had thought of when reading it to prepare for the meeting. This improvisational aspect is energizing and valuable; it can, however, make for occasionally hilarious critiques. Notable quotes from a recent Wednesday night:

Cindy (to Julie): "I think this story is too long. Or else it's too short."

Julie (to me): "I love all the words in this essay, I just don't love it."

The best part of all is that these comments were actually both meaningful and quite helpful.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Ann Patchett on How Fiction Writing Is Like Duck Hunting

I came to understand that fiction writing is like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before dawn, wearing a little protective gear, then you stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself. This is not to say you are passive. You choose the place and the day. You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen, but what happens. You have to write the story you find in the circumstances you've created, because more often than not the ducks don't show up. The hunters in the next blind begin to argue, and you realize they're in love. You see a snake swimming in your direction. Your dog begins to shiver and whine, and you start to think about this gun that belonged to your father. By the time you get out of the marsh you will have written a novel so devoid of ducks it will shock you.

—Ann Patchett, What now?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Stephanie Elizondo Griest on Miracles

I used to think authors could make their books best-sellers through willpower alone. But we can't. What we need is a miracle.

And that's fantastic. Because miracles happen. Like my Princeton fellowship. That one application, assembled the night before the deadline, bought a whole year of time to think and create. If I've learned anything in this business, it's that the more you fling yourself out there and chase those dreams and miracles, the higher your likelihood of catching one. [Lesson No. 7: Miracles happen, especially if you pursue them.]

—Stephanie Elizondo Griest, "Confessions of an Author Nomad" in Poets & Writers
The monday morning quote returns after a brief hiatus for a family emergency and I'm going to start the new year with a quote I find to be both inspiring and true--and with a plug for Poets & Writers.

In the first serious writing class I took, in the fall of 2001, our wonderful instructor Jane Brox spent a few minutes of our final class giving us some parting advice on becoming a writer, and one of her recommendations was Poets & Writers. I've had a subscription ever since, and I look forward every other month to an issue packed with interviews, advice, and deadlines. This week's quote comes from the section called "The Practical Writer," available in the print edition only, where I always seem to find something something useful and inspiring. I bet you will too.