On October 1, 2021, Sabyasachi (Sachi) Nag at The Artisanal Writer asked me nine questions about the craft of writing and reading. And, I answered them!
The Artisanal Writer asked me these nine Qs:
Each of your poetry collections seem to have been either triggered by or woven around a few central ideas e.g., The Minuses, around the relationships between women and nature; Instinctive Acts, around immigration and identity; Mind of Spring, around facets of personal and military wars; Landscape of The Wait, around your nephew’s car accident. Do you arrive at the idea first and then compose around the idea or does the idea emerge from the writing, informed by the obsessions at a given period of time?
What are your primary concerns when constructing a poem? Are you like Frost trying to make each poem as different from the previous as possible? Or do you think that couldn’t be?
In an interview with Colorado State University, you said “I tend not to bypass what’s present, but instead use it as the prompt from which to write.” In that context, how do you arrive at meaning, or do you consciously not and allow the reader to arrive at it? How important is intention in a particular piece within a themed collection?
What made you a writer?
What does it mean/suggest for you to think about your craft with each published work? If you were to associate an image with the development timeline of your writing craft what would that look like?
In pushing your work beyond your first title what were you most conscious of? What were/are you trying to achieve?
Are there any books that you keep visiting for inspiration?
Do you train your subconscious in certain ways to deal with success or rejection?
How do you deal with aspects of writing that provoke negative emotions such as self-doubt, failure, exasperation? Is there an emotional ritual/practice you follow to deal with that?
The Artisanal Writer editors bestowed upon my responses a lightening accompaniment.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to you, dear reader, for the gift of your attention!
+ Thank you bows to Sabyasachi (Sachi) Nag and The Artisanal Writer for the gift of inquiry and space to respond.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to publisher Stephanie G’Schwind, and Mountain West Poetry Series editors Donald Revell and Kazim Ali, et al interns at the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP) for making The Minuses (2020) with me.
Happy third month of 2021! Dear Reader, I am grateful for your lovely company here, where I share information about my books, the books of others, and my reading practice.
Since the publication of The Minuses a year ago this month, I’ve been writing to you to share “the constellation of pluses” around my during-the-pandemic-published poetry collection. What are “the pluses”? Pluses take the form of reviews, interviews, and reading invitations I and my poems have been lucky to receive. In this post, I will also take account of books I’ve read so far this new year as I begin reading my way through my fourth annual personal Big Read: #mypersonalBigRead2021.
Bill Neumire on The Minuses: “Macarty theorizes, “The poem exists, arises with and between the poet and the reader; the poem could be thought of as the meeting bridge.” Flannery O’Connor, drawing from Pierre Chardin, told us everything that rises must converge, and in the Sonoran Desert, described with replete taxonomical detail covering its flora and fauna, Macarty gives us a persona that sends herself “into the desert to become a third person.” If, as Don Paterson tells readers in his tome-length new reflection on the very nature of a poem’s exigency, “silence is the space in which the poem makes its large echoes,” this book is humming with desert silence, and forcefully compelling in its echoic impact.”
Set in a desert borderland, Mind of Spring, a poem in three parts, uses contemplation as a compositional element to call to attention the social, cultural, environmental, and personal mechanisms of war. Written across borders—both visible and invisible—between homelessness and home, estrangement and intimacy, lyric and language, the poem reflects on an accreting grief for the world and meaning of the observed, while offering the reader an alternative to the commodified and monetized.
Now, to my reading practice, which consists of challenging myself to read a volume, or part of one, each day of the year. For me, a volume is a collection of poetry, a chapbook, a magazine, a literary journal, a novel, memoir, essay collection, etc. I’ve written about why I’m doing this in other posts. The main impetus that prompted this Big Read was the realization that books were stacking into to-be-read towers around my desk. I seemed to be buying books, but instead of reading them I was coveting them. The mounting stacks were causing anxiety about when and how I would ever get to all of the books. Rather than pull out my hair, or do nothing, I decided to just start reading and see what I could read. The first year, 2018, I read 300 volumes. In 2019, I read a few more than 300, and in 2020, I read 200 volumes. I have to type it out: I read 800 volumes in three years. That number also gives you a sense of the to-be-read towers to which I’m referring.
The stacks have dwindled considerably, but there are still more books to read. In 2021, I intend to keep reading.
Here are some of the volumes I read in January 2021. For the first month of the year, I had the loose intention to read mostly writing by women, and that’s what I did. Seventeen of the twenty volumes of poetry and nonfiction essays depicted are written by women. The remaining eleven volumes I read during the month were written by a mix a binary and nonbinary writers, and were read in digital formats. Included: ~250 poetry submissions of three to five poems each—that’s about 1,200 poems!—for The Maynard, the poetry magazine I co-founded and edit.
Reading is, of course, teaching me a lot about myself, writing, the world—and about reading. There are times when I think about reading to such an extent that I no longer quite grasp what it is or how to do it. Reading is getting weirder for me. During a recent think on reading, I came to realize that reading scares me. I’m not convinced I can do it or be good at it. Every time I pick up a book I have the question: Will I be able to read and understand this? Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop me; I just keep reading.
Here’s February stack! For February I made the intention to read Black and biracial writers. I wanted to do something tangible to celebrate, honor, elevate, and be an ally to Black poets and writers. This stack contains 23 (one volume is three-books-in-one!) volumes of poetry, stories, essays, and memoir—all by Black and biracial writers from the US, Canada, Kenya, Ghana. Additionally, I challenged myself to write a reader’s response to each book; you can read those on my Facebook page.
I acknowledge that reading and having the time to read are privileges.
I’ll be back in touch soon with more reviews of The Minuses and to share more about my reading practice in 2021.
Thanks very much for joining me here, for reading me! I’d love to hear about what your reading practice and what you’re reading. Leave me a comment!
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+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to you, dear reader, for the gift of your attention! If you have any questions or comments, write me!
+ Thank you bows to reviewer, Bill Neumire, for his attentive, thoughtful, generous review of The Minuses.
+Thank you bows (continuous!) to Eleni Zisimatos and Leigh Kotsilidis et al at Vallum for their confidence in and support of my writing.
+ Thank you bows to the writers and publishers who brought their grand accomplishments of books into the world.
+ Thank you bows (continuous!) to publisher Stephanie G’Schwind, and Mountain West Poetry Series editors Donald Revell and Kazim Ali, et al interns at the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP) for making The Minuses with me.
It is the MusesWho have caused meto be honored: they taught me their craft
First the possessive. My books. The Minuses, a full-length collection forthcoming (Feb 2020) in the Mountain West Poetry Series published by the Center for Literary Publishing joins my three chapbooks, Instinctive Acts, Mind of Spring, and Landscape of The Wait.
Don Revell and I would very much like to publish your manuscript as the spring 2020 MWPS title if it’s still available…
I received the offer to publish on Labor Day, September 2 at 4:29 PM (PST). I had spent the entire day laboring over a new version of the manuscript, inputting edits and so on. At five O’clock I saved and closed the file, then checked email. A half hour earlier, Stephanie G’Schwind, director of the Center for Literary Publishing wrote to me: Don Revell and I would very much like to publish your manuscript as the spring 2020 MWPS title if it’s still available…
What to say. This. I’m over Saturn’s moon. Over Jupiter’s moons.
The autumn months were a happy flurry of editing, proofing, selecting the cover, and various other things that go into making a book a book. Tuesday, December 17 at 2:25 PM (MST) I signed off onThe Minuses. The book is scheduled to be out for Valentine’s Day. Can you think of better sandwich for a poet than one made between Labor and Love? More and more soon, soon…
After I signed off, I became aware of how mentally fatigued I was. The months of proofreading and decision-making took a toll. When I looked within for words and that feeling I have for them–a love affair–it was absent. Where was it? Tired!
But nothing a ritual fire couldn’t clear!
I gathered all of the hardcopy (used on both sides) versions of the manuscript I could find and burned them! As I sat in the heat of the fire I chanted gratitude to the poems that are The Minuses and welcomed those that may come:
if you will come I shall put out fresh pillows for you to rest on
Second books written by others. As in 2018, this year I intended to read a book a day. With travel and the vicissitudes of life that became read as much as I can when I can.
Above some of the books that I look up to from 2019…
I resolved to start this reading practice (at the close of 2017), after becoming acutely aware of the sky scrapers of books surrounding my desk. I seemed to be coveting books, but not reading them–at least not at the rate I was buying them. Simultaneous to this awareness was the co-arising of anxiety at how many books there were towering, looming. After the overwhelm subsided, I decided to start reading… just to see what I could do. Et voila!
From this reading practice, I have learned about:
Attention–what keeps mine
Comprehension–it’s dependent on attention
Taste–how not to judge myself for what I like or don’t
Company–what I read for
Inspiration–o, to read what hurries me to the page
Above some more of the books that I look up to from 2019
[ the Results! ] #mypersonalBigRead2019
166: Full-length collections of poetry
64: Chapbooks (poetry & nonfiction)
22: Fiction, Nonfiction, Memoir
Total = 303 individual volumes in 2019!
[ last year’s Results! ] #mypersonalBigRead2018
205: Full-length collections of poetry
67: Chapbooks (poetry & nonfiction)
7: Fiction, Nonfiction, Memoir
Total = 300 individual volumes in 2018!
Notably, I read more than twice the number of journals, more than three times the fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and three more titles in 2019. The stacks in all categories continue to melt and so does the anxiety and overwhelm. Replacing them: confidence and the knowledge gained from the experience of this deep reading practice. There are still some hours left in 2019. To books!
As the sand drains to the bottom of December 31’s remaining hours, and just like the end of 2017, lasts, like this day, point me toward reflection and acknowledgment, announcement and celebration. In my previous post, I took stock of my year in poetry, bowing to those who joined and supported me.
In my first chapbook,Landscape of The Wait(Finishing Line Press, 2017), a poetic response to my nephew William’s car accident and year-long coma, the landscape is hospital and waiting rooms on the Atlantic coast in the Northeastern US, where I grew up and where my family still lives, and the conceptual landscape waiting carves in the minds and hearts of the waiters. In my second chapbook,Mind of Spring(No. 22 Vallum Chapbook Series, 2017), the landscape is the Sonoran Desert that surrounds Tucson, Arizona, and includes streets and neighborhoods (Barrios) of the city’s Downtown. This long poem in three parts also takes place in corporate America and oil-rich Middle Eastern countries surrounded by the Arabian Desert.
The landscape of Instinctive Acts is Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown Eastside and Gastown neighborhoods. In these poems, I’m writing to locale/dis/location; place/dis/placement; neighbor/neighborhood. The poems are written as taking place in the city and so by that association they are of a city. Weirdly perhaps, I do not think of them as commentary on city (the urban) or in contrast to the (suburban) small village I grew up in on the other side of the continent or to the desert. Place is important because of a feeling of exile, displacement, immigrant status, and, the loneliness that comes with being new and other in a place, especially one that tends to remind you of your otherness.
Everyone has their pre/occupation. In these poems, mine is: How do I and my neighbors live together? What is neighbor/neighborhood? Who belongs–the geography of self? Who is inside/outside–figuratively and literally? How do we connect? Where do we find community? What is home? Where is it found? To what elements of deconstruction are connection, community, and home vulnerable?
The vulnerabilities are revealed through: Woman walking. Violence–against women. Writing on the wall, as literal and metaphoric implication. Talking to walls. Speech. Communication. Listening/watching in order to locate. In order to be. In relationship. In community. With self, other, streets, alleys, restaurants, birds (nature), and rain. It wouldn’t be Vancouver without rain.
In Vancouver, rain is often a source of complaint, keeping residents inside. By contrast, in Tucson, rain is a cause for celebration, dancing residents into the streets. I’ve always loved the rain. Rain that washes but that’s not what it’s for. Rain that punctuates but that’s not what it’s for. Rain no matter what. Rain on everything. Rain indiscriminately.
Rain–its absence or presence. Birds. Location. These are three constants in my work.
I want to tell you a bit about how the cover came to be.
As with the other two chapbooks, I wanted a photograph for the cover. Meredith Q. was hesitant, so I was in the process of accepting a text only cover for Instinctive Acts when I had a dream in which a photo of the gargoyle, as I call it, in an alley near where I live became the cover of the chapbook. The next morning, I contacted Vincent Wong, my friend and a wonderful photographer to see if he’d come take the gargoyle’s picture. He agreed!
Here are some of Vincent’s beautiful captures of the day.
Once I had Vincent’s wonderful photographs, I selected the one (bottom left) and mocked up a cover for Meredith to see. She loved it, and when I told her about my dream, the new cover was born!
What a joy it was to collaborate with Meredith and Vincent on the book! I bow to them, and to Joanne Arnott and Wayde Compton, who offered their endorsements for the poems. Terrific artists all, who make Vancouver’s arts and my community more vibrant.
With the book all together, it was time to celebrate!
Rolf, the owner of People’s Co-op Bookstore, where we gathered to celebrate Instinctive Acts welcomed us. First up: Jacqueline Turner, a new friend and wonderful poet read from her new work forthcoming from ECW Press. Next Jacqueline and I read part of a poem we wrote in collaboration for Pandora’s Collective Poetic Pairings reading (October 30, 2018). Then, it was my turn! I read 10 poems from Instinctive Acts. The reading closed with Japanese poet, Soramaru Takayama and I reading two more poems from the chapbook. I read in English, Sora read his translations of my poems in Japanese; then, we read the poems in our respective languages simultaneously (Go to this post on my Facebook page to listen to Sora’s and my performance).
There’s another chapbook of my poems into the world. Tra la! Will you read it and then share with me your response? That’s a poet’s hope! Happy All Year!