Monday 26 May 2014

"My Writing Process"

Poet Dan Wyke invited me to follow him in answering these four questions about my writing process.

What are you working on?

I have a poetry collection in progress titled The Weather in Normal, addressing family, home/place, climate change and death. It builds on my pamphlet/chapbook, Homecoming (Dancing Girl, 2013). I also occasionally nurture the seeds of several other projects: a series of poems expressing grief over my mother's death, Grief's Alphabet; poems on the memorials at Bath Abbey and questions of commemoration and place; and an erasure of Esther Summerson's chapters in Dickens's Bleak House. One of the pleasures of these embryonic projects is that the poems' styles are wildly various, and I wonder if I can sustain that range throughout each project, especially Grief's Alphabet and the Bath Abbey poems.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I think it's highly unusual to have three books so wildly different from one another in style, especially one's first three books. I worry when someone likes one of my books and says she's going to buy another that she'll be disappointed in its difference. On the same principle, I'm delighted and relieved when I learn someone likes two or more of my works.

Why do you write what you do?

I have a choice? I write what engages me both intellectually and emotionally; I tend to take less pleasure from writing, art, etc. that seems to draw solely from the intellect or the emotions.

How does your writing process work?

It comes and goes. There are periods during which I'm writing regularly, periods in which I hardly write anything at all; the latter usually because of university commitments, especially marking, which seems to diminish my creativity. I don't understand writer's block--if I have time to write, there's always something and indeed usually some things I'm eager to grapple with in one form of writing or another.

A week from today, my poet-friends Zoe Brigley and Jackie Wills will answer these same questions on their blogs. 

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems (New Directions, 1971), first selection

Some favourite passages as I reread the Collected Poems in preparation for my workshop and reading at the Dylan Thomas Centre in late June....

At poor peace I sing
To you strangers (though song
Is a burning and crested act,


O my ruffled ring dove
In the hooting, nearly dark
With Welsh and reverent rook,


(A clash of anvils for my
Hubbub and fiddle, this tune
On a tongued puffball)

from "Author's Prologue"

O see the pulse of summer in the ice.


Here break a kiss in no love's quarry.

from "I See the Boys of Summer"

A process in the weather of the heart
Turns damp to dry; the golden shot
Storms in the freezing tomb.


...and the womb
Drives in a death as life leaks out.

A darkness in the weather of the eye
Is half its light; the fathomed sea
Breaks on unangled land. 

from "A Process in the Weather of the Heart"

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.


And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind 
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

opening and closing lines of "The Force That Through 
the Green Fuse Drives the Flower"

And what's the rub? Death's feather on the nerve?
Your mouth, my love, the thistle in the kiss?

from "If I Were Tickled by the Rub of Love"

By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled birds.

last line of "Especially When the October Wind"

Joy is the knock of dust....

from "When, Like a Running Grave"

I with the wooden insect in the tree of nettles,
In the glass bed of grapes with snail and flower,
Hearing the weather fall.


Love like a mist or fire through the bed of eels.


I, in a wind on fire,....

from "I, in My Intricate Image"

...dusk is crowded with the children's ghosts....

from "Why East Wind Chills"

The ball I threw while playing in the park
Has not yet reached the ground.

last stanza of "Should Lanterns Shine"

Over the past table I repeat this present grace.

last line of "Because the Pleasure-Bird Whistles"

At the time of posting, Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems is available for a mere £7.49 from Foyle's Books--just click this link.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

The Providence Atheneum, April 2014

is a member-supported library founded in 1836; you can learn more about it by going to its website here. I wanted oh so badly to stay there to write, or at least return the next day to write, and now I'm eager to create a short writing holiday that involves going there every day of a stay in Providence. 

The view from the upper mezzanine floor to the main floor below.

The downstairs floor, with newspapers and magazines.

 There are desks between the shelves all the way around the room on the upper floor. Each one is different. I want to make one my own.


I wish there were a large picture behind Lovecraft's head
with tentacles coming out....


Saturday 10 May 2014

New American Writing 31, first selection

I've long been an admirer of New American Writing, edited by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover, so I bought an issue during my recent visit to the States. Here is the first selection of some favourite passages from the current issue (it comes out annually). The spacing often doesn't coincide with the original, I'm sorry to say. If you know how to make intricate spacing work on Blogger, please let me know! obtuse an adumbration
of light we were ecstatic....


The Overghost Ourkestra Live
The Lighthouse could not have
sounded a more distraught


philosophic sound ensemble, we
dealt in light, light's audiotactile
valent, rough equivalence, rough
cloth covered us again...

from Nathaniel Mackey's "Anacoluthic Light"

Waves come
from inside the heart and take the form of slow talk


I sense: her laugh rings in church bells
which is my going away from her

  from Husein Barguthi's "The Falcon"
translated by Fady Joudah

Some climbing is ascension some climbing is collapse
some eyes are ashes and some are alight

from Husein Barguthi's "I Dreamed You"
translated by Fady Joudah

A new guest in the body, foreseen, yet unforeseen:
for the last lost control has to be unforeseen.

from Nathaniel Tarn's  
Exitus Generis Humani, III. The Guest

it was waiting for you all along
there at the end of the shore line
where the first-person ends and
all subjects get pulled tight like a string

opening stanza 
of Donna de la Perrière's "Into the Silent Land"

The banjo is cheerful as a busload of ornithologists arriving in the tropics.


Anyone still writing poetry instead of getting rich at Goldman Sachs or Barclays with dizzying algorithms and sociopathic grandeur is pretty remarkable.


And a spark of love burns the house of apathy down.


The banjo makes the brown languid water of the Mississippi inexplicably explicable.


Think of tiny mosquito skulls busy with tiny mosquito thoughts.


Beauty leaves a scar. It always does. It is not sweet and gleeful like the banjo. It is serious like a cello. Like the drone of a cello in a bayou haunted by dread.


A banjo offering ablution and a heart in the chest pounding a fire to the brain.

from John Olson's "Ablution in Banjos"

The feeling is large, romantic, and incendiary. 


Soup speaks to my palate in delicate rhyme. Especially tomato soup. It tastes like a hot day in Mexico.  It is a happy solution to winter. Especially if you're someplace other than Mexico. Vermont, for instance, or Michigan. 


Sometimes I get it into my head that if I write forcefully enough I can create an opening in the fabric of time and laugh my head off all the way to Texas.


As for pronouns, who cares about pronouns? There is no cure for pronouns. They're everywhere. They're sprinkled into sentences and sliced into libraries. Places of quiet where he and she and you and it can sit in quiet and be anonymous as antennae sucking sounds of the air like radios and giving those sounds semantic substance. Chintz and illusion. Crickets and secrets and shadows and doors. Splashing and hardware and paint and titanium. In phenomenology, the multiplicity of phenomena is always related to a unified consciousness.

from John Olson's "No Cure for Pronouns"

And I said viper and saw myself unscrewed, cardial and unique,
carnivalesque and spoken, more vivid by means of the simple
tree of language.


                                It was night when we heard
the whispers of deaf men in the corridors.

from María Baranda's "Vibora," 
translated by Paul Hoover


Wednesday 7 May 2014

RIP Russell Edson, 1935-2014

I've just learned of the death of Russell Edson, an American master of the prose poem I admired greatly and whom I had the pleasure to hear read some years ago in New York. Here are links to two of my favourite pieces of his: the atypical "The Pilot" and the delightful "A Performance at Hog Theater". I would be grateful to hear of ways his work has inspired other writers and happy to post tributes, responses, etc. here over the coming weeks.

Saturday 3 May 2014

19th Annual Harvard University Native American Powwow, 3 May 2014

So glad to catch some of this powwow while I was visiting Cambridge....

 Native American fancydancer in motion 

 Another fancydancer

The scene at the powwow

More dancers

My favourite dress

Thursday 1 May 2014

Another great review of Homecoming

I was delighted to encounter another great review of my pamphlet/chapbook Homecoming online here at Luna Luna. Here's the final paragraph: "There’s also gallows humor here, and magical thinking, and relationships between sisters expressed fully in three lines. Etter’s imagery relays the intensity of grief and loss so clearly that it’s impossible to look away. You won’t want to. The writing is that careful. Careful in the sense of precision, never at the expense of honesty." Many thanks to reviewer Megan Burbank for her time and attention!