Monday, December 31, 2012

Fantasy of Fewer Possessions

Fantasy of Fewer Possessions

One plate.
One tool for cutting.
One piece of string,
tied around a wrist.

Unfinished linen gown
dragging through the dirt,
earth clutching at the hem,
don’t leave me.

One sky to hold all the stars,
one plastic bag full of
one million goldfish.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Winter sky postcard, anyone? Hope your weekend is wonderful. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things I Have Accidentally Learned About While Writing Poems (The December 2012 Edition)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Plumbing and Revision

Plumber hero.
In an apartment I once lived in during college, I prided myself on being able to perform minor surgery on our plumbing. Very minor, but very victorious.

Forgive me if I get a bit overly-technical here, but in the back of the tank, that windshield wiper-lever thingy would disconnect from the rubber plug, resulting in the water not being able to fill back up.

With the help of a piece of a wire hanger (and my hands in some freezing cold water in the back of the tank), I could reconnect it, and feel like I’d done some good work (I know, very self-congratulatory--but I’m not a very handy person).

When I think about revising poems, it doesn’t feel like demolition, nor does it feel like painting or repainting. The kind of revising I do feels like fixing plumbing (what I’d imagine it’s like, at least--what a strange fantasy!). I imagine myself sitting on the floor in front of a sink, both cabinet doors open, all the pipes exposed and leaking.

My changes to poems are always fairly minor (usually replacing or cutting individual words or lines, tightening a particular image, or playing with punctuation). And I don’t always know what I’m doing when I’m tinkering with a poem--I don’t know how I want it to turn out, I just know that there might be a trouble spot. If I fiddle too much with a particular poem, there’s a chance I might just let it be (which means....what? I guess that I don’t submit it anywhere or see it as more than an exercise).

For me, the trick is always to let the poem be what it wants to be. I can feel myself too carefully reprettying lines at times, and I have to work against that impulse. I also am on the lookout for places where jumps in logic seem to make perfect sense to me, but I can’t figure out why, and I’ve lost the connecting threads in revision (this happens in my titles sometimes).

I love hearing about other writers’ revision processes. I’ve known writers who rewrite an entire poem several times. Or writers who let poems sit, and return to them over a matter of years (I adore sifting through Brian Brodeur’s splendid site, How a Poem Happens--if you don’t know it yet, get yourself comfortable and wander through the extensive archives and enjoy).

So I’m curious. How do you revise? What images characterize how you revise your creative work?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Inspiration, in Eight Minutes or Less

Never fear--no infomercial here. I wanted to share this video of one of my favorite writing activities with you.

In this video, the unflaggingly delightful Lynda Barry will steer you through a brief (but crazily effective) exercise. I’ve used a variation of this exercise with my writing students (and I always participate, too). The power of writing to help us to unpack our memories (whether sensory, emotional, or just the logistics of a scene) is astounding.

The activity also reinforces a lesson I constantly repeat to my students (and myself): what we notice matters, and what we all notice about even the most similar scene is strikingly varied.

Too often, we dismiss our own observations as insignificant. There is so much value to being attentive to the world around us, and attentive to our own reactions to this world.

To start: write a list of ten random words (you can write them on index cards or slips of paper, or just as a list on a sheet of paper). Don’t overthink this.

And now, over to Lynda Barry, Champion of Creativity and Goodness.

How was this activity for you? Anything interesting come up? Which tutorials, activities, or prompts are most helpful to you?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Experiments Week

It's the last full week of 2012. What better time to start taking my own advice? (Spoken like a true, proud procrastinator--I often want to write a book called Procrastinating Effectively: Best Practices for the Deadline-Driven.)

To keep myself on my toes, this will be a week of weirdo programming (like Shark Week, or the silly, doctored book cover above). I'm going to be posting here, but I won't be posting new poems (maybe I'll write them still, or maybe I'll just focus on revising and tinkering...

For a while, I've been thinking about changing up my routine, or taking time away from writing new poems every weekday. Back in June, I wrote this post about Creativity and Time, and Stefan Sagmeister's practice of taking sabbaticals. When I read Erin Loechner's recent post on Slow Blogging, I got inspired and excited.

One of my strengths is the being in the everyday-ness of life, I think. But this creates a weakness in me in that I sometimes overvalue routines or structures, without re-evaluating or stretching. In my writing, I often feel myself relying on what feels certain or comfortable, as opposed to taking more risks (a lot of perfectionism comes from the avoidance of failure--Leo/Virgo cusps, can I get an amen?).

The other reason for my deliberateness in my process and use of time: many competing projects and deadlines (this is a human issue, not just mine---well, maybe it's an American issue). For the first time in my life, I bought a dry erase wall calendar this year, to try to feel more organized and less scattered. (By the way, my cats respond by putting their front paws on the calendar, and slowly slipping down, thus erasing what I've written.)

My writing is a place where I try to give myself permission to fail (and sometimes I do, in that I don't always love the poems I post here on my site). What I keep learning is that the more I remove obstacles, structures, and certainty, the more I will learn to trust my voice and decisions. As an artist, this is crucial. I'd like to do a little less guarding against uncertainty.

I'm curious also to know about your own creative challenges--what are you working on/working through these days?

This week, I wonder what will happen.  Let's find out together.

Friday, December 21, 2012

This Is the Year

Instead of sending you a card, I'll drive this truck past you and honk.

I saw this truck a couple of weeks ago, while walking home from teaching. I love the colors and textures, and how everything is strapped together.

Happy almost holidays! 2013 is almost here. Honk!

Thursday, December 20, 2012



Dusk sloshes against the sky,
showing to us the darkness
that is always there, the stars
that are always there. The first
star, we say, as if they blink off
and then return for us. Where
will this one night go as we roll
around our corner of the star jungle.
Where can it go when out there in
deepest space, there is no day, no
evening, no beginning of an end
and no end.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

And How’s That Working Out For You

And How’s That Working Out For You

I am not checking the eggs
in the grocery store
to see if they are broken.

I am checking the eggs
to prevent them from breaking.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Will Happen When the Sun Dies

What Will Happen When the Sun Dies

Pick a forever thing,
and watch it go gooey
or corroded in your hand,
blob of diamond,
desiccated car,
forked-up yolk sun.

Is that inky cloud
a black hole
or a bok globule.

Tell your neighbor,
and pass it on,
keep watching for a new sun,
babies who’ll be here
in a thousand years,
in ten thousand years.

Five million years
equals forever
only to us.

Monday, December 17, 2012



This is the year you are alive in.
Before, you can’t know the plagues

that ravaged the villages, the city
before the great fire, the green land

before the grey city. These are
the times you have already seen,

your joy, your faltering, the year
that changed you. Your life is a

ruler, but all you have of it is your
one end. It uncovers itself to you

one inch at a time, a tree worming
out from its roots, the ground,

thickening. This is what your name
sounds like in the voices of those

you’ve loved. Here is your view
in the morning, your mind gathering

the day before it is here, a great
down comforter, voluminous. Here,

a corner, what you had perceived as
the center, the heart acreage. This is

the body you belong to right now,
and these are the bones you have

always had. You have made peace
with the knowledge you can’t take

it with you, but you want to hold
it for as long as you can, at least.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Inspired by...

Currently inspired by...

Kjell Varvin’s most recent installations. I’ve been following his work for a long time, and have written about it on the The Storialist (here, back in March of 2010--weird that it was over two years ago!). Here's an interesting interview with him, too.

"The Joy of Burning Down the House," by Ben Schrank (on FSG’s Work in Progress). I love the questions that Schrank asks of writers here: “Why does no one writer want to admit that the process of writing, while often terribly trying, can also be bliss? Are writers trying to keep this secret to themselves?” I completely agree with him--it’s a painful pleasure/pleasurable pain. And it is FUN. We (writers/artists) need to accept accountability for our work and decisions...

Kishi Bashi. Read more on him and his music in my Musical Interlude at Spoonful.

This video on Michael Wolff on living with curiosity and attentiveness. Love this.

The semester is finished, and I’m almost done with grades. I am so looking forward to doing some good "research" (reading, writing, exploring of ideas, finally catching up on blogs) over break! What's inspiring you these days?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Enjoy Your Horse

Enjoy Your Horse

Take this grass, take this land,
this barn. Take

the horse you already have,
give her to me.

Let your horse live here, with
me. She will be

fed. Brushed. Safe. The other
horses will speak

to her as one of their own, she
will find love here.

You can see her whenever you
like. She will always

remember you, her name in
your voice means

peace that emanates throughout
the universe, this

will not change. You may miss
her, but you can

check on her. You can envision
her walking toward

the apple tree’s shade. She will
want for nothing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lake and Land

Lake and Land

Lake and land, twinned
when the lake is still.

If the trees go snowpale,
the water matches the hill,

whitens. Fire in the pines
means a picture of fire

shining back from below.
Rabbit darting from the briar

shoots across the water, too,
as if gliding on its back, on ice,

feet up, flailing. See the lake
and the land, and live twice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

To Do

To Do

Every note you wrote yourself
returns to the cardboard backing,

uninking itself. The paper below
goes plump and smooth as a pillow,

forgetting what you’d written
to remember, to do. The checks

you send come back, dollars
swimming into your account

like gasoline sucked back into
the pump. Goodbye, tax returns,

goodbye, each job, most recent
to oldest, your summer job

at the bakery, Saturday nights
you watched two children

down the block, the pizza you
all ate frisbeeing into the box,

into the pizza shop and oven,
shredded cheese shriveling

into distinct petals, floating up
into a hand, a bag of cheese,

a fridge. The children shrinking,
bed to crib to arms to belly,

and then you, smaller each day,
returning to warmth, and light,

and darkness, giving your body
back, limb by limb, simplifying,

a lump of warm ice, cells fusing,
melding, slow boil back into level

liquid, natural as air’s glinting snow
disappearing as it tumbles down.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Dove One Year Becomes

A Dove One Year Becomes

Baby doves the next,
becomes no doves,
the near silence of the yard
at night, becomes my needy
ears that year, unsatiated by
toad trill or the road’s yawn,
a car or two going home,
becomes the thing I hope for
when the pine tree twitches,
Dovey, is that you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

Currently reading and enjoying...

This poem, “Free Bible in Your Own Language,” by Heather Kirn Lanier at VerseDaily

The Paleofuture blog by Matt Novak, which describes itself as “A history of the future that never was.” I can’t stop reading this blog---it’s so fun and entertaining! I love what the past thought The Future would be like. I’ve been reading posts on The Jetsons, fashion, and past predictions.

This article, “Horror Doesn’t Have to Be Ugly: A Look at the Comics of Emily Carroll,” by Matthew Brady (at The Hooded Utilitarian). I love Carroll’s work--this is an insightful analysis of her comics and aesthetic.

This great exercise, “Tiny Masters: An Artful Trick to Writing the Personal Essay,” by Sherry Simpson (in Brevity).

This gorgeous essay, “Daughter Species,” by Amy Monticello, on what grief feels like (this piece feels so brave).
What are you reading these days?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Future Needs

The Future Needs

The guts of the car clank and chug.
All of the future needs none

of your permission. Your handwriting
is still awful, your h, n, and m need one

less stroke than you provide, bob
their tails. Why, when you feed one

of your hungers, is it your sweet tooth.
And when you brush your teeth, some

of the enamel gets spat out, scrubbed
too hard. Smaller circles, leave some

of your bones intact. The year is
almost gone, and the week’s done

in days, but you squeeze the end
of the tube. Is the seed done

when the plant dies, not for the dirt,
it isn’t. You know the future needs no one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012



Why can’t the best part of the song last
forever. What’s wrong with The Chorus
Waltz. Soak the chords in echoes, would
you, I can hold the sound even as it
decays. When the song ends, then where
does it live, the snake back in the basket,
or uncoiling within me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



Soon, flowers. White petals here
above smooth bark. Gray for now,

dark bones of the tree. Months more,
sixty snows more, could be hundreds,

cannot yet count this year’s crop of
snows. Later, surely, white petals,

tree full of white moths come to say
The ground is soft enough to dig.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Next Year, Jerusalem and Dromedary Extension Kit

Next Year, Jerusalem and Dromedary Extension Kit

A pile of hay, dented in the center
where the baby will go,
a couple, hands over their hearts,
heads tilted toward the baby.
Everything facing the baby in the hay,
three men holding golden cups,
ermine or velvet at their throats, a lamb,
a cow, donkey, another lamb,
more hay, the wooden beams to mean
a barn, more hay to scatter
around. The ground beneath them,
dirt paths leading to the barn,
a star, a dome to suggest the sky,
the inn nearby, the women
and men sleeping in their beds,
hay in the pillows, bakery
near the inn, a few more houses,
then the apothecary.
Then shepherds, then sand,
and then the blue-green
Dead Sea nicked with ripples,
dented in spots to hold
the bobbing bodies of swimmers.

The Storialist. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.