Tag Archives: writing

My First Book’s Coming Out. Cue Panic?

OYHH Front CoverMy first book releases March 31st. This isn’t the post I thought I’d write about such an occasion, but then– this isn’t the book I thought I’d write, either. 
Here’s a confession. Publishing this book is easily one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Writing it involved excavating and articulating stories, fears, and beliefs that I’d never let anywhere near my songs. Or even my own head. But over the course of a couple years, a poetic practice crept into dark corners and reported back what it found. Some of it is comprehensible. Some of it is recognizably nameless.

Some of it is photography. Michael Wilson and I have talked for years about creating a book together, and when these poems began piling up, they seemed to beg for a Wilson-ian counterpart. Perhaps less for illustration than for a haunted (and haunting) camaraderie, for a shift in conceptions of violence, of peace. For a break in the patternless pattern.

When the manuscript was complete, I was thrilled (as any writer is) to have the book accepted by a press. I signed a contract and made preparations. Logistics, aesthetics, repeat. And then the press settled on a release date. I was excited. I posted on social media. I texted my family. And then I fell into the most severe depression I’ve experienced since the illness sent me out of full-time music and into another life.

There were other factors; book-publishing doesn’t happen in isolation. Still, these poems pull on lovely, bloody threads strung from real bodies that move and feel in a real and volatile world. This isn’t to say that the book is (entirely) autobiographical, but it does expose and implicate. I don’t know how it couldn’t.

Of course, as it turns out, we keep things silent for reasons. I’ve spent the last several months tripping on mine: I’ve thrown up, cowered in bed, stopped for deep breaths while teaching, cried weirdly (and not soundlessly) in public spaces. I’ve berated myself for being given a great opportunity, only to cringe whenever it’s mentioned. I’ve steeled myself for congratulations, and tried to feel them in my bones. Sometimes I do.

I’m fortunate to have found support, and I’m getting steadily better. I’m more and more proud of the person behind the words in this book. I’ve begun to feel empowered by her movement from silence to conversation, or at least to nice-sounding works of word. Music-less songs.

I’m telling you this both to confess a terror and to dispel my lingering (irritating) sense of the shame of depression. This illness is, of course, less a signifier of personal weakness (or strength) than of personal intersections with chemistry, biology, time, and perhaps an uncanny, relentless sense of the possible. Perhaps none of these. Ideally, one simply learns over time to better live with depression—to move her body through the thick space of it. She learns to feel the shape of it in her mouth, and say it.

I’m also telling you this because, for the past several years, I’ve made my life’s work about the movement of silenced stories into public discourse. I’ve spoken urgently about the negative health impacts of individual and collective repression, about the necessity of the arts in helping us tell our stories. But if I needed a reminder that silences are bulwarks, safehouses, that they often serve vital, bone-deep purposes, this book has been mine. I’m re-learning the sense of fragility that often precedes the powerful ownership of one’s history; the fluctuating, feverish means by which secrets become strengths. I’ve questioned again whether it’s worth it.

I believe that it is.

 …The only recourse / is to name one’s self, and hold the margins / wide enough to walk in.

//

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(Want)

That barking
is the smack of one flap of give-a-fuck
against the other. At the corner
of the sternum. Also the shaking of limbs,
of hands on the steering wheel.
Is the pulse normal. Is the sweat.
Is the exhale hard down into pelvis,
like a push against the flailing.
I’m not asking. That barking
is the sound of wanting sound,
how intricately-imagined the motion
of lips, of tongue and teeth
to form the words that don’t come.
Gestating long past hymn and dust.
That, my dear, that barking
is the chill of stomach sucking
in against investigation. Shaping
itself a bowl for questions.
The smack of eyelash against cheek
blinking them back.

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What Writers Can Glean from “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Writing MoralsIn my latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine, I summarize the Crazy response to The Wolf of Wall Street, and tackle the Good that might come from ethically-precarious art.
An excerpt:

Criticisms of The Wolf of Wall Street both devalue viewers—by assuming they can handle only moralistic tales—and esteem them, by providing immediate evidence of their astonishing critical thinking skills. The film’s critics affirm the necessity of moral-ethical conversations while simultaneously proving we’re capable of having them. This irony is ridiculous.

It’s also empowering.

Snag some motivation to “go write your way into controversy”…

Check it out and comment at the original post here.

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Poetry read over Pop Music: YES.

Confession: I’m utterly delighted by these poems read over pop music:

Click the forward arrow above for more greatness:
track 1 frank o’hara & drake
track 2 alice notley & justin timberlake
track 3 dana ward & katy perry
track 4 dylan thomas & miley cyrus
track 5 william carlos williams & wale/miguel
track 6 dorothea lasky & raekwon
track 7 richard brautigan & mariah carey
track 8 sylvia plath & eminem/rihanna
track 9 ted berrigan & kendrick lamar

These tracks hark to my piece for Ploughshares re: what poetry can learn from pop music …

More importantly, they convey the irresistible depth that music lends to words. And the subtle enacting here of social critique combined with direct musical utility and appreciation is stunning.

Coming from a career as a songwriter, whatever tensions that exist among poetry, social commentary, and pop music have only been lively and generative.

So poets — and writers of all genres (because why not get crazy here) —
Music does a thing. Go experiment with it.

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4 Reasons to Write the Hell out of (What’s Left of) 2013

eat pie but also writeOk so it’s almost Thanksgiving.
If shopping, family drama, travels, and/or assorted year-end hells are killing your writerly motivation, here are four reasons you’ll want to go write anyway. Like, right now.

It’s my latest for Ploughshares Literary MagazineConsider yourself kicked in the ass.

 (you’re welcome)

 

PS. If nothing else, you can always employ your bot.

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(prayer)

toxic  dangerI have held the terror
Which belongs to others
Nor for that, thanks.

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To Anxious Thought:

You and I are poor lovers
But we are faithful, faithful,
Aren’t we.

step12_eyes_of_stone

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And then there’s the time you go off Cymbalta.

cymbalta love is complicatedNot because you no longer need it,
but because it may be doing harm.
Not that you know; it’s an experiment. A new doctor
playing fast and loose with neurotransmitters.

Famously terrifying to quit, Cymbalta loves and leaves
with jerks and starts, fuzzy rods between your eyes,
hilarious nausea. Blurred and frozen, then unfrozen.

Cymbalta offers no weaning methods. So at night
you stoop over your capsules: splitting them and counting
beads the size of salt granules. Placing them
in new capsules, or dumping them in applesauce.
It’s how the internets say to do it.

The meds are only monsters when you stop taking them.
Before then, they’re daily nurses, gentle masseurs
at the feet of cells and secretions you can’t name.
(Unless they’re doing harm.) (A delicious game of guesses.)

Not needing them, latching instead onto some organic
all-natural FDA-unapproved-statement supplement regimen
is a privilege for the lucky, the wealthy, the believers
whose nodding acquiescence delivers them from evil
via Jesus and placebo effects. You’d be happy
for faux fixes, but can’t muster the requisite faith.

Then there’s the way weeks begin disappearing
into snaps behind the eyes: trying not to turn the head
too quickly, to keep some shit together, eliminating maybe
several white beads at a time.

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“For to live means to sing, to love, to rage, and to tear things to shreds, while…faces look on and pupils burn.” –Nicolay Aseev

(Choosing to ignore for a moment that Aseev wrote this in a bullfighting context.)
(Because advice is advice amirite)

(listening to Russian poets)

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“It is just as well to be rash and foolish”

If you need a weekend writing push, check out Zora Neale Hurston‘s reminder to be rash. Get what’s in you out. Stop asking why and making too many demands, on yourself or others. If you later regret writing this thing, at least you made something worth regretting.

Stop waiting. Say it.

“I regret all of my books. It is one of the tragedies of life that one cannot have all of the wisdom one is ever to possess in the beginning. Perhaps, it is just as well to be rash and foolish for a while. If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would be written at all. It might be better to ask yourself ‘Why?’ afterwards than before. Anyway, the force from somewhere in Space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”

Zora Neale Hurston
Dust Tracks on a Road

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