Archive for Creative process

Taking a Risk


I took advantage of an offer from a poetry journal to submit five poems and, in addition, in exchange for $20, I would receive comments on the poems within a few days plus a copy of their journal.  So I picked some poems I liked and thought were finished and a couple I thought still needed work.

The comments came back within three days.  The email started and ended with friendly enthusiasm but in the middle were snarky and sometimes contradictory comments on each poem.

The poems included one that used the concept of Wabi Sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that things are transient and imperfect.  I wrote about making an error in a piece of needlework and I said, but the Japanese are intentional, meaning an artist may include an error on purpose, whereas my error was just that, an error.

The Editors said, “… we collectively cringe slightly at the cultural references in this one, especially the so self-assured pronouncement, ‘Japanese are intentional.’ Without knowing much about the poet, it’s hard to say whether such a statement is earned, or not.”

Then they said, “We like the central idea in this piece, the intentional inclusion of error in human-made work to reflect the (“non”-intentional, though inevitable) imperfection of the universe.”

Am I wrong to think those comments are contradictory?  Whatever.  What really annoyed me was the comment about my so self-assured pronouncement that Japanese are intentional.  Reading that, I reached for my keyboard to send a response, but then I stopped, took a breath and decided the best I could do was to let it go.

But the comments reminded me of recent controversies in the art world where an artist is criticized for making an artwork that is about another group’s culture.  In two examples, the artists withdrew their artwork from exhibit in one case and from future sale in the other.

Then, a friend recommended an acclaimed book of short stories by a Hispanic woman.  The first story I read was in the voice of an African American male.

Confused?  So am I.

However, I am thankful that The Editors decided that “…we are going to give the poet the benefit of the doubt on the cultural references, because to us, none of them rise to the level of actual appropriation”.

I ended up taking their advice to remove the wabi-sabi references and keep the ideas in the poem.  I have submitted it elsewhere, and we’ll see how it is received.



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Poem a Day

urban-pumpkin Urban Pumpkin

First day of October.  I decide to write a poem a day this month. So far, so good.

On October 1, I made a list of nouns and a list of abstractions, like feelings.  The idea is to select one word from each list and write about what connects them.  I chose the pair, hair and hunger.

It’s not an easy case to make that hair and hunger are related in any way but that’s a poet’s job:  to help us see connections at the intersection of two disparate things.  So, in the poem, I become hungry for the hair I used to have, thick and colorful, in a world that is diminished, a world I cannot control.

Today, I wrote a poem for Rattle, which is dedicating an issue to Civil Servant Poets, poems by civilians who have spent “considerable”time working for a governmental agency.  It seems like it would be a boring topic unless you have watched House of Cards and realize how dangerous power games can be and how far down into the ranks they can reach.

Today I recalled the car salesman brought in to head up a social services agency and how he angered me with his pompous ignorance.  I was surprised to hear him say, years later, that it was the hardest job he’d ever had and how he took his worries about it home.  I guess that part must have surprised him.

I am going to try for three civil service poems by October 15.  Why, oh, why didn’t I save some of those old memos or emails??

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Golden Shovel Poems

Studio 2

This is a photo of my “studio.”  I took it to accompany a poem published by Postcard Poems and Prose.  Actually, I rarely sat here; I am at my computer most of the time.  But the idea of a desk with a typewriter and a few favorite things is very appealing to me.  Note the old Princess style phone and the Valentine made by an artist friend.  And the gargoyle from Oxford, England.

All of this has been upended by water in this basement room from a storm on July 21 that dumped three inches of rain in an hour.  Drywall had to be removed, insulation replaced and the carpet pulled up.  Repairs are underway, but it is doubtful this configuration will be repeated.  I have used the time to sort through things and make decisions about what to keep and what to toss as I re-prioritize what is important to me and what I need to have near.

As I write this, I know that people in Baton Rouge and other parts of Louisiana have lost everything due to torrential rains.  I do not feel sorry for myself at all for this minor hassle. I am grateful the damage here is contained and we have the resources to repair it.  Plus, I have had the opportunity to find many things to donate to St. Vinnie’s, The Sewing Machine Project and the local library.  If I did not want to part with something I thought maybe I could use, I kept a little and shared the rest.

This clean up has not particularly inspired poetry.  But I ran across a poem that was written in The Golden Shovel style that did inspire.  Golden Shovel poems rely on the words of a line of poetry, used as the last word of a line of new poetry.  If the line chosen has seven words, then the new poem will have seven lines.  I chose Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant -“

A Golden Shovel Poem After Emily Dickinson

I’m here to tell

you all

that the

only truth

I know is mine but

if I tell

you, it

will be slant.





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Memory Cloths


Memory Cloths is a movement started originally in South Africa by women who felt their stories had not been told during the truth and reconciliation period after Apartheid.  They started writing and drawing their stories on cloth – Memory Cloths.  The idea was picked up here by fiber artist Leslee Nelson.  I attended a workshop led by her and started my own story in stitch.  It shows the states I was born in (SD) and raised in (ND) and the Northern border with Canada, Western with Montana and in the East, Minnesota.  The coin in the upper right hand corner is the state coin for ND.    Leslee, being an artist, is more comfortable than I am with stitching small drawings.  I tried a cow and it was bad.  I am more comfortable with words.  When I stitch a poem, I will be sure to share it!



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Bad Poem


Olbrich GardensSpring Flower Show

A poem by Calvin Trillin, “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet” in The New Yorker triggered a huge reaction among poets, writers and especially Asians.

It is not a good poem.  I can imagine the scenario:  The New Yorker is doing a foodie issue and someone says, hey, we need a poem.  Call Cal, he’s good for it, and Cal complies, thinking – I believe he thinks – I can write something funny, about how easy it used to be to pick up Chinese and how it’s complicated now with all the different regional choices.

I will not summarize the Asian reaction other than to point to an article in the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, whose title is, “We Are in the Room, Calvin Trillin.”

Instead,  I started to think about what if someone wants to write a poem about food and thinks, gee, there are so many varieties of Chinese food.  I could write a funny poem, exaggerate the problem of too many choices.  Like when my husband goes to the store for Cheerios© or boxes of Triskets© and I say, just get Original – because there are too many choices.

I have a list of eight signs you’ve written a good poem.

The first sign is, “You’ve Tackled a Big Idea.”  I think that’s where Calvin went wrong.  His big idea was that “they” haven’t stopped generating provinces, each with a new kind of Chinese cuisine.  The word “they” immediately puts him in opposition to “we”:  non-Asian Americans.  And asking whether “they” have run out of provinces suggests the number of provinces are growing – and running “us” over.

I want to glorify the diversity of Chinese food, food we all enjoy, no matter how many or few provinces it comes from.  Chinese food is interesting, it sings with flavor and its textures are wonderful.

Could such a poem be written?  I don’t know.  Maybe no one can write about someone else’s culture anymore, including cuisine, without raising the question:  how do you know?  How do you know what it’s like to be me in your world?

But, if anyone ever asks Cal to write another poem about food, I hope he at least considers the joy of it.

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High Wind Warning

Blog Photo

Spring Garden Show at Olbrich Gardens

Gusts to 55 mph.  Even for a girl from North Dakota, that’s an impressive number.  Well, if this is the March lion, then April should be lovely.

I spent the autumn studying metaphor and other things poetic in a couple of on-line classes and by December I was in a really creative period.  Then on January 4th my husband was diagnosed with a detached retina.  It was a little like this wind, it came out of nowhere, upended everything for two months and is fading away, leaving just a memory of turmoil.  Unfortunately, the retina also stopped my creative renaissance in its tracks.  But only for the time being, I hope.

I had a poem accepted by the Ariel Anthology, Solitary Plover, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets 2017 Calendar, Postcard Poems and Prose, Portage Magazine, Origami Poems, and Poetry Speaks, a celebration of arts in the community coming in April.  Homes for poems.

My husband says I should write for myself and not worry about publishing.  But if you write and think it’s good and speaks to something that will resonate with a reader, you want to share it.

I listened to the artist Manabu Ikeda talk about his work this week.  Manabu is artist in residence at The Chazen Museum of Art.  He opens his studio four afternoons a week to visitors and recently indicated he wants to invite people to come on the weekend as well.  His work is so focused and solitary that I was surprised he wants more visitors.  But in the video he talks about how he thinks about viewers as he works – how they might enter his work or a viewpoint that might interest viewers.

All creative people want an audience, I think.  Partly it is ego and accolades, yes.  But also to invite viewers and readers into your world as welcome guests to be greeted with gratitude and respect.

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Two girls discuss penguin gender and family structure

Tagged Penguin

See the red band on the penguin’s flipper?  Apparently, the color signifies gender and position in the family, e.g., mom, dad, child. I listened to two little girls discuss the banding among about a dozen penguins yesterday at the Vilas Zoo.  They went on about the relationships between parents and children and speculated on the sibling matches.  I thought, wow, here are two budding sociologists and they don’t even know it!

What I know is that three of my poems found homes in Solitary Plover, the newsletter of the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, Wisconsin nature poet.  Here is the link to the publication.

The poems are:  Cityscape, Dropseed and Spring Walk.    The editor left off my bio by accident, in case you are looking for it.  But I know who I am.

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