Tag Archives: creative practice

April 2023: Counting syllables

Part of my current writing project involves a future with flooding on the eastern seaboard of the United States. I’m no climate scientist, though of course I have observed, as we all have, that extreme weather is rapidly becoming more normal than extreme. So to shore up my fictional world, I’ve been reading the U.N. Climate Report.

There are so many things I love about this massive bureaucratic document. I love that each chapter begins with an overview of what’s going to be covered. I love that it states how much the authors agree about, and have confidence in, their statements. What I love the most: how they’re valiant efforts to be neutral in their vocabulary and syntax reveals the breadth and depth of destruction caused by our systemic objectification and subjugation of the natural world.

For example: “Anthropogenic warming has resulted in shifts of climate zones, primarily as an increase in dry climates and decrease of polar climates (high confidence). Ongoing warming is projected to result in new, hot climates in tropical regions and to shift climate zones poleward in the mid- to high latitudes and upward in regions of higher elevation (high confidence).

These sentences make me twitchy for poetry, which so often functions as the great unmasker of the naked emperor. (And when poets turn to essays, as Ross Gay does in Incitement to Joy, they continue to unmask.) I’m no poet, but I can count syllables and I’ve gone a little nuts playing with the ways some of the UN report’s language could be shaped into semi-found haikus/tangas. This is pure play, and I do not intend disrespect to these forms with my amateur frolicking (in particular, I realize haikus are usually untitled, but titles here were my launchpads…). Thinking in syllables served as a refreshing break from my longer work, allowing me to return to prose with a slightly-more-finely-tuned ear.

1. Technical Summary, page 49

Local trees dampen
amplitude of extreme heat.
Still they welcome us.

2. Climate-related extremes on land:
risks are amplified

I’m thinking this means
trailer parks, shacks, shanty towns,
human well-being,
nevermind ecosystems. Knowledge gap!
See update in two-point-two.

3. Introduction to the chapter structure

optimize across
the lands’ sectors stakeholders
sustain policy
-relevant best management
assess for mitigation

May it be that poetry alights upon your eye and ear whensoever you are in need of it.

March 2023: Others’ Words

I’m down on the mat wrestling with my larger piece of fiction which is several smaller pieces of related fictions, and have been reading widely for organizational inspiration. Here are tidbits that I’ve found memorable for the ideas they express, for their musicality, for their perspective, for their humor.

[P]erception is then language with which we attempt to grapple with the idea, the concept, the phenomenon [of time]. List any ten speeds for time: summer morning, winter dusk, boring lecture, first time making love with woman you actually really love, drunkenness, moment of death, car crash, heart attack, any and all meetings of more than seven people, childhood, and not one happens at the same speed as the others, some are blindingly fast and over instantly and others drone and moan on until you contemplate removing your spleen with a pepper shaker just for entertainment’s sake.

— Brian Doyle, Mink River

* * *

“Every greedy man-made thing dangling with a price tag

Has sunk into the darkness to be properly cleaned up by the starlight.”

–Nikki Finney, Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry

* * *

She looked at Philomena’s orange hair and smoke-colored eyeliner and at Justin’s mangy beard and demonic stare. She could see nothing of what her children had once been.
Bradford lifted his nose from the wineglass.
Did it occur to you that your mother and I actually worked to pay for this chicken? he asked.
Philomena shrugged. Justin said:
The chicken worked harder.

–Thasia Frank, “Enchantment” in Enchantment: New and Selected Stories

* * *

He had never experienced such a sky. In England, where heaven is a low-hung, personal affair, thoroughly identified with the King James Version, a sky such as this would not have been tolerated for a moment. It was a high, pagan explosion of a sky, promising indulgence for all kinds of offenses to which he had not the slightest inclination.

— Shirley Hazzard, “The Worst Moment of the Day” in Collected Stories.

* * *

One morning before dawn it got very cold in the guest room. Grandmother dragged the rag rug up on the bed and pulled some raincoats down from the wall, but they didn’t help much. She supposed it was due to the bog. It’s a funny thing about bogs. you can fill them with rocks and sand and old logs and make a little fenced-in yard on top with a woodpile and a chopping block–but bogs go right on behaving like bogs. Early in the spring they breathe ice and make their own mist, in remembrance of the time when they had black water and their own sedge blossoming untouched.

–Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

February 2023: the impossible

My hypervigilant brain has been wrassling with revision of my speculative-fiction manuscript. In an effort to get it to relax its anxious judge-y grip, today I dipped my writer’s craft toes into Geraldine Woods’ marvelous book, 25 Great Sentences and How They Got That Way. I jumped to the “Impossible” sentences section, where the “writer’s exercise” invited me to brainstorm impossible events, eg what could happen on February 30th. One example was, “have a good conversation with [relative].”

My hypervigilant brain sprung into action: but [relative] has their own experience of the conversation! Who’s to say what’s good or bad? Why categorize any living being as “impossible” to have a good interaction with?

Then my hypervigilant brain sprung onto a white steed of smug self-righteousness: I have done enough self-reflection, and practiced enough nonviolent communication, and meditated enough years to know that good/bad is an unhelpful dichotomy, a limited and constricting way to approach Life. I’m beyond such simplistic thinking! (I’ll give you a moment to get a tissue and wipe the tears of laughter off your face.)

Next, my hypervigilant brain slid sideways off its saddle of self-righteousness: there are [some people] that I’d cross the street to avoid. That I absolutely do not believe I can have a “good” conversation with.

And thus my hypervigilant brain finally came up with what seems impossible to me: inviting [some people] to my house for a meal. Preparing it with as much kindness as I do for my dearest friends. Laying in a bottle of good wine, and after-dinner port, and excellent chocolate. Feeling joy when they arrived, and bittersweet regret when the evening ended.

Just imagining this impossible scenario raised my heart rate a bit, tightened my stomach. But then questions bubbled up: how the heck are [some people] doing since the death of their parents? How is that wild child of theirs as a teenager? Do they still drink wine?

Imagining the impossible and sitting through the subsequent discomfort shifted [some people] to “my former friends.” Oh. Oh!

As my now-relaxed hypervigilant brain took a breath and dozed off for a wee nap, she mumbled, that’s a good way to make an effective piece of writing: imagine the impossible.

May it be so.