The Writing Process Blog Tour

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I was invited to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour by Jennifer Kakutani an artist/crafter/photographer/writer who I first met at the Squam Art Workshops last June. She was wearing a beautiful delicate yellow sweater of her own making and I was likely wearing a sweater from Old Navy, marking me as a novice knitter at best. Jennifer’s blog bio. states that she mothers “while knitting, sewing, painting, photographing, gardening, riding around Seattle with my kids on my cargo bike and anything else outside. I usually squeeze in some gluten-free cooking and writing articles for ParentMap.” She’s a graduate of The Corcoran School of Art and Design, Washington D.C. and is currently working on a memoir as well as documenting her life in photographs.

The Writing Process Blog Tour aims to shed a little light on the writing process and other aspects of the writing life. And heck, writers don’t often get asked questions about their creative life, so it’s a chance to mull over and share our creative idiosyncrasies. I’m supposed to be passing this off to another writer, chain letter style, but all my writer friends seem to be gearing up for their fall teaching load or off on vacation. If any writers out there would like to take part just send me a note and I’ll get you on board. Here goes!

What are you working on? I’ve been pretty occupied getting my first poetry collection Church of Needles into print, as well as The Diary of Esther Small; 1886 which I edited and transcribed. My second poetry collection Split the Crow is due out later in the fall; I just finalized the file and wrapped things up on my end with the manuscript. I’ve also been working on some poems toward a chapbook manuscript tentatively titled If It Weren’t for the Girls with Pocket Knives. The poems are women/girl-centric, some about my own childhood and teen years as a ‘latchkey kid’ raised by a single mother, mothering a younger sister and dealing with violence toward women. The poem Sisters; 1980s was just chosen as a runner up in a poetry contest at Fugue and will be published in October. The themes I’ve been mulling over are extinction, voicelessness, life from a woman’s angle and the predator/prey relationship. 

How does your work differ from others of its genre? My poetry primarily differs from work by other poets in that I tend to create a hybrid of narrative and lyric poetry, which I’ve been told by some poetry teachers is a problem, but I’ve learned to embrace. I’m also inspired by history and historic voices in particular. I’m kind of obsessed with the persona poem and can’t help wanting to take on the voices of other women and oppressed populations.

Why do you write what you do? The poetry community often bemoans the lack of political poetry and poetry of witness by contemporary poets. Where are the poems about Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan? Where are the poems about mass child abduction, sex slavery, violence toward black men? I have a hard time writing about contemporary issues and getting into the heads of contemporary individuals, it’s not that I don’t want to, but I feel a definite affinity for historic voices and historic issues. Through writing about spousal abuse in 1886, discrimination based on race and gender, and the genocidal origins of our country, I feel I’m creating my own poetry of witness in a way that works for me and also resonates with contemporary oppression. 

How does your writing process work? I write in the mornings on my laptop, usually in a file titled: “poems begun..” with a date. I tend to create my own poetry prompts by jotting down images, lines, ideas in a notebook and revisiting them, as well as highlighting lines in books I’m reading, usually non fiction. I’m currently reading a book on the extinction of the passenger pigeon and was struck by the fact that a young boy killed the last wild passenger pigeon (around 1900) and that his mother stuffed it and used buttons for its eyes. The bird has been referred to as ‘Buttons’ ever since. I also recently found a website dedicated to helping female vocalists going through menopause work with the changes their voices undergo. Both of those ideas/images are loaded with symbolism for me. I know I can work with them. I usually write the first draft of a poem in about an hour and will do some initial revision as a I write. I’ll revisit the poem a few days later and head for the weak spots, which I’m usually aware of initially. 

Ok, your turn! If you’re a writer: poetry, fiction, non fiction, send me a link to your blog and a bio. and I’ll paste it right here and pass the torch to you.

Pigeon-Poetry Prompt

photo-2Passenger Pigeon extinct 1st September 1914

This year is the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. I forgive you for not knowing. Bird lover that I am, I didn’t know until a few days ago when I visited Mass MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art http://www.massmoca.org/event_details.php?id=934) and came upon this little gem in a glass case. It stopped me in my tracks. A tiny goblet commemorating the extinction of a species? I didn’t know such a thing existed. It’s the stuff of a poet’s dreams. This poet at least. (As an aside, when I stare at this picture, my son says: “mom stop looking at it you’re making yourself sad.” and I have to explain to him that, in a strange way, something about it is making me happy.)

 I’ve heard the stories of passenger pigeons, mythic in proportion (except they’re all true and accurate), darkening the skies for days during migration and blanketing villages with their droppings. According to Joel Greenberg in his book A Feathered River Across The Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, the passenger pigeon was 1.5 times larger than a mourning dove, “a mourning dove on steroids”. A man who grew up in Indiana in the 1860s reported hearing crashing all night from breaking limbs where the pigeons nested in a maple grove. They were described as the locusts of birds. It’s unusual for the extinction of a species to be pinpointed with such accuracy, but the last passenger pigeon, a bird named Martha, was raised in captivity with two companions, known to be the last. Martha’s two companions died in 1910 when she was 25 years old. She lived another four years as the last of her species. In his book Lost Animals; Extinction and the Photographic Record, Errol Fuller writes: “Yet she lingered on alone for a few more years. Whether this lonely existence was an ordeal for a bird as highly social as a passenger pigeon cannot be said.” After her death, Martha was frozen in a block of ice and shipped to the Smithsonian to be stuffed. Her molted feathers were collected and sent along for use in the taxidermy, to give her a more youthful look. As if all this wasn’t enough, I’ll give you a couple quotes from A Feathered River Across the Sky to prime the pump.

“The pigeon had no song save for ‘a number of low notes, some of which are sounds that seem to be almost the soft breathing of the great trees.'”

“…gently fluttering their half-spread wings and uttering to their mates those strange, bell-like wooing notes which I had mistaken for the ringing of bells in the distance.”

Imagine, a sound we’ll never hear, the call of a bird that doesn’t exist.