From Composing on the Computer to Writing by Hand

When I was young, I sometimes wrote poetry at my computer. That was when you could be on the computer without being online, and being online meant tying up the house phone line. Now I mostly compose new poems by hand, because it’s how I can get away from flow-breaking distractions. As a result I’ve been motivated to maintain a legible hand. From the outside it might look like some kind of poetic preciousness. Ahh, she writes by hand, in a special notebook! But it’s all about the practical considerations of the work. If there is anything romantic about it, […]

Advice for Aspiring Writers: Learn Dog Language

A small terrier sitting on a Muni train

Take a walk every day.
Stop to smell the roses, jasmine, and angel’s trumpets.
But don’t bother to smell the camellias; they don’t have a smell.
Get a guidebook to local flowers and find out which ones are worth smelling.
Get to know people who aren’t like you.
Befriend them.
Eavesdrop on your neighbors.
Find out about your neighbor’s dog’s health problems.
Make friends with dogs.
Learn dog language.

We Have Come to a Mutually Beneficial Agreement

Plumeria (Frangipani)

There was a classic orb spider web on the upper crossbeam on the deck roof. In the middle presided a fat-bodied araneid with distinct yellow markings on her back.

“You could make yourself useful and move over closer to this plumeria and evict these ants for me. I don’t know if you eat ants, but I bet they don’t know that either,” then I thought I ought to be more polite since I was asking for a favor, and said “I mean, I’d really appreciate it if you could come over here and help me out.”

Meeting Dionysus in San Jose

A young woman in a white chiton sat on a chair in front of an entrance to a hotel room. “Would you like to meet Dionysus?” she asked me. A priestess, then. I wasn’t planning on it, not so literally, but why not? Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones is the best thing about Pantheacon, so why not say hello to a God who favors poets? The priestess said Dionysus only sees one person at a time, so I had to wait until the previous supplicant or visitor or worshipper left. It wasn’t long. Another priestess opened […]

Home-Made Glue and the Creative Process Behind “Night-Time Skin Ritual”

words pasted onto paper

After doing a cut-up last week using my own work and the WIPP nuclear waste warning poem, I decided I really enjoyed the cut-up process and the kinds of work it generated. I wanted to do something playful for Valentine’s Day using whatever advertising I could get my hands on. Unfortunately I didn’t come across any fliers or other paper ads in the wild, so my only source was the SF Weekly. I hand selected the ads for events happening on February 14th in the SF Weekly and then cut out interesting phrases with scissors. I wasn’t satisfied with the […]

Whom Am I? (Part One of I, You, He: Who Are the People in These Poems?)

Photograph of a bust of Janus

Is the “I” of the poem the same as the “I” of the poet? Well, it’s complicated. Sometimes. And then again, sometimes not. And sometimes both. Let me explain. In a fictional narrative written in prose, most readers quickly realize that “I” just means the author chose to write in the first person, and the narrator is just another character. In modern narratives, that’s also often a clue that we shouldn’t necessarily believe everything the narrator has to say. In non-fiction prose, like essays or memoirs, readers generally assume the “I” of the narrative voice is the same as the […]

The Self is Continuously Formed from the Outside In

I have for years now observed that the person I am is determined by the place in which I am. To a distressing level, frankly. Certain ways of being seem inaccessible in some places, utterly. For example in the American suburbs, which is one of the places I least like the person I am, I can’t even access the sense of melancholy of longing for the wilderness I might feel in the city[…]

Translating Big Potatoes: A Kind of Review of Embryology by Magdalena Abakanowicz

The uneven, bulbous shapes reminded me of a recurring hypnagogic hallucination from my childhood, and so of course, I was immediately drawn to them, while simultaneously repulsed. Exactly like that nightmare hallucination. I walked around them, rather wishing, as I often do with sculpture, that I could get closer, touch it, or at least walk among the piles of brown – what exactly? At first I thought of a disturbed ants nest, with worker ants carrying eggs away. But eggs would all be the same size. Then I thought of potatoes. As I wandered around my companion read the explanatory […]