Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3 … 4, 5!

Yesterday, I wrote an arun poem for the first time in forever. And a few people commented that it was a form they weren’t familiar with, so I thought I’d post about aruns tonight.

It’s no surprise that the arun isn’t a familiar form because … wait for it … I invented it! No, really. As crazy as that sounds, I did. For poetry month in 2012 the form I chose was the Zeno. When I read about it, I discovered that it was a fairly new form, created in 2009. And that surprised me. I’d never really thought about inventing a form, figured all the forms had already been invented. Or that inventing forms was someone else’s domain, certainly not mine. But there was the Zeno, only a few years old when I learned about it.

Then, in 2013, another slice-of-life writer introduced me to OULIPO and snowball poems (scroll down the page to see the description). Combining my thoughts about the Zeno with the idea of the snowball pushed me to play around with patterns I liked, and — voilà! — I came up with the arun with its specific syllable count but no rhyme scheme because I still haven’t quite reconciled myself to rhymes.

The arun: a 15-line poem with the syllable count 1/2/3/4/5 — 3x.

It still doesn’t seem possible that I created a form. That’s really should be, must be, someone else’s domain. But here we are, with the arun. “Arun” means “five” in Yoruba (according to The Google), and the name was chosen by popular vote in a little blog poll I put up. It’s not super sophisticated, but I like it.

Here’s one I found in a draft blog post from three years ago:

Play
this game —
eyes open
senses alert.
Listen for every
breath,
every
sighed exhale.
Don’t show your hand.
For now, in silence,
watch.
Keep still —
hold your breath.
Listen. Listen.
This is the reveal.

I have no idea what I was upset about on April 17, 2014, but this didn’t express it well enough. I like the one I posted on that day better than this one, but I wanted to share this one anyway. (It was languishing in my “Drafts” folder all this time, seemed only fair.)

Still not sure what form I’ll write next month, but wanted to clear up the mystery of “what’s an arun, and where did it come from?”

If you write an arun, I’d love to read it. If you link to it in the comments, I’ll be sure to check it out.

Or, perhaps, instead of writing an arun, you’ll create a form of your own! If you do, please share. I’d love to try my hand at your new form!



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

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DIY (If You Want Something Done …)

On Thursday I wrote about getting the news that I hadn’t been awarded a writing residency I’d applied for. In their comments, Heidi from Wordsmithing and Akilah from The Englishist expressed interest in the DIY writing retreat I made for myself in 2012, and Akilah’s comment made me realize that I’d never written about it. So today I will.

In 2012, I decided to send myself away to write. In both 2010 and 2011 I’d gone to VONA and had my heart and mind and craft blown wide open. For 2012, I decided not to apply, but rather to take the money I’d spend on a VONA week and create a two-week writing vacation.

I was nervous about doing it because I’d never been particularly successful with writing on vacation in the past. I’d turned out a few pages, but mostly spent my time vacationing and maybe (maybe) writing in my journal. But those had all been vacations and not specifically writing retreats, and I wanted to believe that calling my trip something different would actually help flip whatever switch in my brain needed flipping to get me to be more productive.

So I planned.

  1. Find a place to go. I searched on Flipkey (like AirBnB) for a place to go. I searched in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in France, in Canada … Everything looked great, nothing looked right. And then I clicked to an apartment in Tulum and the first photo won me. It was a slightly fuzzy picture of a sunny kitchen table. When I saw it, the first thought I had was, “I could write there.”
  2. Figure out when to go. The retreat was going to be my birthday present to myself, so I wanted to go in the fall, as close to my birthday as possible.
  3. Make a plan for writing. I made my schedule very simple: I would write all morning and go to the beach in the afternoon (it was going to be Tulum, after all, home of one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet). I also signed up for an online writing class and planned the timing of the trip so that I’d be in the middle of the course while I was in Mexico.
  4. Make a plan for what you want to get done during the retreat. There was a story I’d been fighting with. I knew that, if I was ever going to find my way through that story, I needed to understand this one character I’d been avoiding. So I decided that I’d use my retreat to write about him, to figure out who he was so that I could make sense of what he was supposed to be doing in my story. I don’t know if this part of the equation is necessary for everyone, but having a specific project in mind before I started helped me. I wound up writing other things during the retreat, but having this clear idea already laid out in my head helped me know exactly where to begin on day one.

So I was good to go. I was still worried about whether I’d get much work done, but I figured I’d done as much planning as I could or should, and that I’d have to trust myself.

I got to Tulum, the apartment was as lovely as the photos had led me to believe, I set up my writing corner of the dining table, and went to sleep early so I’d be ready to dive in with my schedule the next morning.

My schedule didn’t work out at all. Not even a little. Here is how almost all of my days went:

I got up early and had a little something for breakfast. I sat down with a cup of coffee or tea and started working. After working for a while, I started to feel ravenously hungry and had to stop writing … which would be when I’d discover that it was somehow 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon, that I had been working all day.

Two weeks in Tulum, and I made it to the beach twice. Twice. That is actually a crime, I think.

But —

I wrote like a crazy person. I wrote more in those two weeks than I normally write in a whole year.

I have never felt more content, more perfectly at ease in my body, more perfect. I was completely exhausted at the end of every day and fast asleep before 11pm … and then up with the sun to start all over again.

A big part of the success of my retreat was signing up for that online class. It was a class with Minal Hajratwala. I’d taken an online class with her once before, so I knew what to expect. Minal is an amazing and amazingly generous instructor. The materials she prepares, the exercises she gives … always fabulous. I was taking her Blueprint Your Book class during my retreat, and I had a huge breakthrough thanks to two of the exercises she gave us. She is an entirely lovely person, and if you have the chance to take one of her classes, I enthusiastically recommend it.

__________

It’s definitely not necessary to go to Tulum or to go away for two weeks to make a DIY retreat work. You can stay right in your town. You can:

  • Find an AirBnB place that’s not crazy expensive (my apartment in Tulum was $50 a night), rent it for as many days as you can, and go write.
  • Apartment swap with a friend who lives a short train ride or drive away, sit at her desk or at his kitchen table, and write.
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend, order room service, tell housekeeping to leave you alone, and write.
  • Find a co-working space that will let you rent for 2, or 5, or 7 days, and let the fact that you’ve paid for the space inspire you to actually spend those 2, or 5, or 7 days writing.

The important things are to 1) set aside time to work, 2) be in a place where you can work without interruption, and 3) hold yourself accountable to giving yourself that time.

I’m looking forward to planning a retreat for myself for the end of the summer. I don’t know if I could ever be as insanely productive as I was in 2012, but I like having that bar to aim for.



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

The Words to Say It: Writing in conversation with my mentee

My mentee, Sophia, and I are working on our submissions for this year’s Girls Write Now anthology. Every year, GWN mentees and mentors get published together. It’s a lovely thing. The mentees, of course, are the stars of the show, so their pieces are more substantial. That’s the tricky part for someone as long-winded as I am! How to say what I want to say in only a handful of words?

Sophia and I have been brainstorming and free writing, trying to decide what we want to write about. She’s had a couple of writing deadlines in the last month, so some of our free writing has led to work that she’s developed for her other submissions. In January, she wrote a snippet of something that seemed like the tiniest frozen sliver hiding a colossal iceberg beneath its surface. I suggested she think about working on that for the anthology since we had so much time before the anthology piece would be due.

But now the piece is due (in a week), and our work is still pretty amorphous. She has added several additional snippets to the first, and each is powerful and compelling, but the work hasn’t yet come together. We’ve been in this place before, with Sophia writing all the way around a thing and then — just in time for the deadline — writing exactly the bit she needed but couldn’t find. We’re going to work for a while on Saturday, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll have one of those breakthroughs. I shouldn’t expect it, of course, but it’s clear that this is one of the ways Sophia and I mirror each other as writers. How many times have I woken up on the day of a reading with nothing to read? And on how many of those days have I “magically” managed to write something in time for the reading? Hmm … I’m seeing another mentor goal for myself: help move Sophia away from this nerve-wracking habit!

While it’s not necessary, each year that I’ve been volunteering with GWN, my mentee and I have chosen to write on the same subject. I like the companion-piece aspect of that, like that our pieces seem to expand in relation to one another. Sophia is writing about her relationship with her father … and heaven knows I have more than what to say about my relationship with my own father, so I thought writing my anthology piece would be easy.

Ha! Guess again.

Of course.

I’ve written so much about my father. And in some ways, that’s the problem. Not that I think I’ve said everything there is to say, but maybe I’ve said all of the easy things to say, the things I can say with the fewest words. And, too, I have to write something that connects, at least tenuously, to this year’s program theme: Rise, Speak, Change. I really like that theme, but I’m not sure any of the things I’ve been thinking to say about my relationship with my father can be bullied into fitting the theme.

Oy. Time to get to work.



It’s March 1st: The start of the 2017 Slice of Life Story Challenge! This is the 10-year anniversary of Slice of Life, which is hard to believe. I started this blog a month before discovering Two Writing Teachers. When that first SOL challenge started, I had no idea what I was doing as a blogger. I always credit that 2008 SOL crew — I think there were 12 of us then? — with making me into a blogger, and I credit them still. Today, there are hundreds of folks participating in the challenge. Every day, writers will post their links over on TWT. I definitely recommend clicking through to the site and checking out some of the work there!

 

Black Excellence (4 of 29)

“Today in Black Excellence –”

Olympia shut down her computer. She loved Kid Fury, but if she started listening to The Read, she’d miss AJ at the train and be late for work.

She slipped on her jacket and walked to the subway, still thinking about Black Excellence. That adorable little girl accepted into Mensa at four years old after scoring 145 on an IQ test. That savvy 11-year-old who started #1000BlackGirlBooks because she sick of reading about white boys and dogs. The woman who bought an old bus and turned it into a mobile tech lab for the computer-less kids in her community.

“Oh, God,” AJ said when Olympia met him on the platform. “What too-special, feel-good nonsense has you looking all dopey and full of love for mankind this morning?”

Olympia smiled. “Black Excellence,” she said, taking his hand.

“Of course. Black fucking excellence.” He shook his head. “How am I supposed to maintain my snark, my scowl when you’re all beaming and high on your people?”

Your people, too, Alexander James.”

“Do not start with the names,” he said, holding up a hand to silence her. “Yes, my people. Fine.”

“Will it cheer you up if I tell you who all I’ve been thinking about?”

They boarded the train and sat across from the conductor’s booth.

“Don’t tell me a thing,” AJ said, stretching out his legs and draping his arm across Olympia’s shoulders. “You marching tonight?”

She sighed, leaned against him. “Of course.”

He nodded. “I get it, you know,” he said, looking over at her. “You need those reminders. We all do.” He sat up and turned toward her. “But it hurts too much to get excited and happy about some bright light of a child. Because they get gunned down and left in the street, their Black Excellence impugned on the news, their killers protected.”

He turned and leaned back, eyes closed.

Olympia took his hand, squeezed it. Imagining the Mensa baby dead in the street drove a ripping pain through her chest.

How many marches had they been to? How many rallies, die-ins, say-the-names events? It was in the midst of all that grief and death-marking that she’d begun cataloging everyday Black Excellence, calling out regular folks whose lives shone a light in hers.

Years earlier, she’d started a morning ritual of mentally listing things that made her happy — the colors of the Caribbean Sea, her close relationship with her sister, the sound of Italian, waking up in sunshine. And she noticed that, the longer she made the list, the stronger its impact. Three things were nice, seven made her smile, a dozen and she felt content.

“This must be why people say to count your blessings!” she’d said to AJ at the time.

“You and my Nana, singing the same song,” he’d said, laughing. “I never saw that coming.”

But he’d frustrated her by refusing to try it himself. He noted her good mood but did nothing to alter his own.

The Black Excellence catalog didn’t have the same effect. She felt grounded when she called out those people.

“Go on,” AJ said then, returning the pressure on her hand. “Go on. Tell me who you’ve been thinking about. Anoint me with some shiny excellence.”

She would cry later — the marches always brought tears. Too much anger and grief, too much choking impotence. AJ would hold her hand then, too. And she’d keep marching, keep chanting, despite her tears.

But that was hours away. She raised their joined hands and kissed AJ’s wrist. “So, it’s called Estella’s Brilliant Bus,” she said. “And it’s just the best thing.”¹


Leap Flash 2016

¹ – Check out all of the Black Excellence referenced above: the too-adorable, super-brilliant Mensa baby, the girl who started #1000BlackGirlBooks, and the lovely and generous Estella Pyfrom who owns and operates Estella’s Brilliant Bus!

Lying

Today’s Poetic Asides prompt is a two-fer: write an honest poem or write a dishonest poem. I wanted to try writing an honestly dishonest or dishonestly honest poem. The prompts haven’t been speaking to me much, but this one feels closer to connection.

Either Or

Which is worse: the lie that spares your feelings or the one that hurts them? Is it wrong to say, “I love you,” when I can’t define that verb, when I don’t know how it feels? When you confront me with my embellishments and omissions, is it better to own my guilt or to deny? When you said I should trust you, did that mean you were a safe space, or was it a warning for me to back away? Lying to you is easier than leaving myself exposed, easier than sitting in the quiet and waiting for an answer, easier than accepting risk and breathing it in. When you said you needed me, was I supposed to believe you?


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Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write an honest or dishonest poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

Coming Clean

Well Read

I confess. I never finished Moby Dick. Couldn’t. Didn’t want to. Never read more of Faulkner than “Barn Burning.” Refused to stick with Finnegan’s Wake. I managed to slog through Madame Bovary, Jane Eyre, Beowulf, The Golden Notebook. Weeks of my life I can never get back. I confess. These are iceberg-tip lists. I could make lit professors weep with all I haven’t forced myself to swallow. I confess. I don’t find that I’ve ever had much time to be concerned with THE CANON, with what’s considered classic. I’m not throwing shade. I’m just saying. I read Ulysses. Twice. And War and Peace, August 1914, Crime and Punishment. Oh yes. Give me Russians. Give me Russians any day. Not because they’re in the literary canon, but because they speak to me. I confess. I am more interested in my pleasure, in stories that resonate, than in faking passion. I confess … but I’m not repentant.

I think I’ve gone off course with these prose poems, lost what little hold I had on how they’re supposed to work. Time to go back to my crib sheets and get reacquainted with this form.


NPM15_ForSite_FINAL_FINAL

Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a confession poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!

A Loss for Words

Lover’s Lament

I lost him because I lost my words. A cruel trick. The universe’s surprise and utter betrayal. How could I, who agonize over the simplest word choices, take days to craft a message, and that message set him against me, sever all ties? Lost my words. Lost that moment, that place of comfort, safety. Lost what felt like the last chance. Lost. He told me that once, during our time apart, he’d had a dream. Saw me walking and stumbling, not blind, but slightless all the same. What does he see now?

Yeah, that one’s not really working. That one kind of sputtered and died before I got my notes typed. It had been rolling around in my head most of the morning, but by the time I sat down to write, whatever was good had found its way out of my confines and off to more fertile, skilled terrirtry.


NPM15_ForSite_FINAL_FINAL

Are you writing poems this month? Where can I see them? Let’s share this craziness!

As I did last year, I’ll be following along with the Poem-A-Day challenge at Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides Blog. Today’s prompt is to write a damage poem. You can post your daily poems on Brewer’s page. The top poem from each day will be included in an anthology later this year!