Saturday, July 16, 2005
Most poets I know these days compose on their computers, though many still write everything w/ pen & paper. I'm a recent hybrid, highly influenced by Buck Downs "Hopper Process". I begin with written fragments, then type them & print. I live w/ the typed fragments until they begin to connect themselves in some way. Then I score the poem in long-hand, only to type it out for layout adjustments. During the past year, the writing has gone best between 6-9pm- shrugging off years as a midnight writer.
Some are surprised that I write in long-hand at all, because my work doesn't seem to be "written". I find this incredibly interesting, because the act of hand-pen-paper contact seems vital to my composition. This is another way of saying that I just can't sit down w/ a computer & write poems.
I'd like to know how other folks work their poems, or get worked by the work. Send your writing method, preparations, time of day, post-writing exercises or anything else you'd like to share to firstname.lastname@example.org & I'll post it here as they come in.
- Frank Sherlock
I usually write with a fine-tipped black ink pen or pencil on blank unlined white paper, occasionally in a notebook: though with and on anything to hand when necessary. At some point I put it into the computer to store and print-out: I'd prefer to do this on a typewriter. Writing directly on the computer to me implies a mostly sedentary life, or a person who thinks of writing as programmable in space and time -- or even someone with a remarkably disciplined and retentive memory. No electricity? No batteries? What then?
I recently (re)discovered the magic of the Sharpie and used it to good effect at the funeral procession for the Chief of Chiefs of the New Orleans Mardi Indian tribes,Tootie Montana's passing, with a method, when mentioned to B. Downs, that brought the usual "no shit, pilgrim, my diapers were avant-garde" response.At this fun- eral, all photography and videography were prohibited to prevent graven images from being recorded (they should have also prohibited the sad Woodstock spin hippie dances, only displayed by a few whitees, such as Andre Codrescu's son, Tristan [sic] (gasp)). Who let the Trogs out?!
I used a yellowing copy of Joyce's Potrait as a backpocket notepad to bold over with poems via the permanent marker -- a journalistic/ poetic recording of the scene. Viva the no-whitespace- needed! from "Tootie Mantana, R.I.P.":
You can dance
if you want to
Thank you Dennis*
for canceling class
& letting me be
here in the street
* Trop. Storm /Hurr/Whatever
9 july 2005
Shin Yu Pai:
With the visual poems, I make sketches with ink on recycled paper, working out the shape that I envision for the piece before tackling it on the computer which may include working with text boxes, shapes, lines, and various typefaces in MS Word. Recently, I've been playing around with poems in Photoshop Illustrator.
With non-visual poems, I may start with handwriting out notes and phrases and at the point where the ideas are synthesized and ready to draft, I take it to the computer where cut and paste is much faster and easier, and neater, along with the ability to track changes and undo. Even if a poem isn't ready to be written, I may take the notes I have for it and transfer it to a word Doc or desktop post-it note - I have so many piles of paper laying around my studio that the computer just becomes a better place to organize this information and to limit waste. But putting these notes into typewritten form also energizes the language for me with a seriousness of intent and a commitment to the undertaking that some how makes things take shape much more quickly.
If I'm working on a particular series, I try to keep all paper drafts in a bound notebook devoted to that project or manila folder of loose leaf paper.
For me it seems impossible to write without walking, so sitting down at a computer doesn't work for me.
Beyond that is something I feel strongly about, something those who don't understand claim to be superstitious. They're wrong.
Creating letters, making them, shaping them with the pen/pencil is not simply a learned trick we get into us as kids, it's more, it's getting some ancient feedback with the conversation in poetry. This isn't even a matter of having faith, or anything like that, it's not faith that's needed but the understanding of our common flux. Everything coming in one arm, going through the cells, and exiting the other arm....
Psychic ability has nothing (at all!) to do with faith, meaning we're destroying one another no matter how positive we are we can't be heard when tearing someone down. This is not some New Age idea either that we all need to be sweet and hug all the fucking time, no, but I am saying ignoring what we have is boring and pointless. You are psychic, I am psychic. Writing poems is a place where magnets are uncovered. Creating those letters, actually making them on paper mutes sound on one dimension (or phase of one dimension), but places the force in the creator of the sound, which is you or me when reading.
There's no doubt in my mind we're bringing one another something exceptional with a song. Making it out of nothing is a nice idea, but far from true, especially if you take a letter, just one letter of your alphabet, sit with it, and understand it has come a long long way from many many mouths for you to investigate further. We're never alone here, in fact I've never felt so surrounded as I do when I write poems.
My favorite letter is the letter M. It's the 13th letter of our alphabet, which is no mistake. Look at it: M. It has five points that are five sharp edges, bringing together a significant concentration. 4 as balance with a 5th point which is the psychic connectedness. 4 seasons, 4 cardinal directions, and one place where we all meet together in this. If you put a circle around M you have yourself a pentacle. The circle holds the force in place, to be used as a battery, in a sense.
But back to writing, it empowers because it gets us into everyone, by making those letters appear, letters that get others reaching within themselves to have the sounds manifest. The reader and the writer are together, equals.
Can the poem be created on a computer? I'm not saying they can't, I'm saying for me they come cleanest when I'm out walking, getting the world under my feet, picking up on all signals out there, or as many as I can handle, then whipping out the little notebook and scribbling those letters that never run out of combination.
Once I used to imagine that it was probably horrible to be alive before alphabets. But maybe not, maybe the connectedness was more apparent, maybe no one had to be called a stupid flake for understanding.
Buck Downs has The Hopper process (one similar to Ron Silliman's), that you mentioned Frank. Maybe I'm too lazy, or impatient, but I go from little notebook to page. Then page to computer, etc., out with it from there. Some people like to see handwritten poems. I'm not that interested. This may seem to contradict everything I've been saying, but keep in mind I'm saying the writing with the hand is process, is psychic connection making process. In the end I'd much rather have our alphabet nice and clean, a strong font is always good.
Pre writing exercises are critical for my creative process. When I don't have a lot of time, which is usually the case, I manage to do at least these three:
Walking, getting outside, smelling the skunks, the dogshit, checking out the bugs, the people, overheard dialogue, traffic, and so on, all crucial to the composition of my word machines.
The poems always germinate in notebooks. Usually small, portable notebooks. I like cheap pens, black orblue ink. I write the same lines over and over again, sometimes the entire poem or just a stanza, over and over, until it begins to feel like I'm not writing it -- I didn't write this, it's outside of me, etc. And then I can work on revising it, because I'm out of that aura of the initial impulse; I can see the words clearly.
Lately I've been reworking poems on the computer, but it's nothing like applying pen to paper. You can't really dig in on a computer. And the light from the monitor drains my poem-making energy.
I write in the morning and late afternoon, and sometimes very late at night, outside, after sitting inside reading and getting buzzed on other people's poems.
Strong Belgian beer sometimes helps me stream-line the process of feeling like I've forgotten what I've written, thus making it easier to revise; but booze is cheap magic, reserved only for emergencies.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis:
I'm intrigued by the question, as my writing processes have modulated a great deal over the years, and I use many of the mechanisms you name to compose Drafts. In fact, I have used and use all of the things you mention, but in different orders at different times of my life. To write one of the poems (which vary between about 3 and 15 typescript pages) can take between two months and six to seven months, with a few that were oddly faster, while other annoyingly recalcitrant ones, take longer, like a year or more. (The dates, pretty accurate/honest, are on the poems, but it is always hard to calibrate when a poem really "begins.") First I do keep "little notebooks" and do some notational writing. I have at times been very self-conscious about these, doing writing exercises a la Bernadette Meyer, but not so much now. Now it's just words, phrases, amusing scraps, of language. They are talismanic, but it's not clear what they contribute to the poems! They are like a parallel life form.
Then some odd notational material is simply written; handwritten, written on the computer, saved in actual or virtual files, available. Ready for action. For
Drafts, I often officially "begin" a poem, after all this prewriting and somewhat random collection of material, by bringing certain material together in a file and then simply writing "into" the computer. I would not, at another stage, have thought this was possible, plausible or even "right" (in the sense of a "rectitude"), but now I can simply write into (not at) the computer. It is what I imagine improvising at the piano is like. By the same token, I mull a lot over the pattern of all the poems to date and invent titles for myself as a way into the particular poemâ€”I make (handwritten) lists of titles, for example, and often have plotted about 8 or 9 titles in a row. These do change, alter, modulate, a process that is enormous fun
to engage. As I am working through donor Drafts, or other materials, sometimes I will make handwritten "notes" on prior poems that start becoming useable lines. So
handwriting plays a clear role. I am also quite indebted to the copy, cut, paste mechanism of the computer in part because of working on long poems. I used to have
physically to cut sections out, and move units around with scissors and a stapler, but now, with more familiarity both with my own varying "sound" and with the computer, I do a tremendous amount of throwing material around inside any given poem (and throwing material out of a poem too, and into other files) in order to find the center of gravity of a given poem. The feeling is simultaneously like sculpting and "collage" as if I were collaging chunks of marble or rock. (Eventually the chunks become more refined, or let us hope so.) I am interested in big shapes, arcs of feeling or movement in these poems, and like also the sense of change-ups, so I am constantly reading, assessing, and either cutting, adjusting the order of things, and/or inventing. When I have bits, notational materials, I now often invent the
syntax that joins material. I used to leave the materials more notational and singular, for a rather imagist frisson of juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is still operable in the work as a whole, but syntax is quite important to me. Sequencing and segmentivity are also incredibly important to me, on all scales, from the order of sections to the order of words, and linebreak is an intimate part of my writing:I work in lines, and do not "add them" afterwards. When I am at a certain stage in the writing, I will make a hard copy, and over weeks of poking at it, I will handwrite changes (word choice, changes of punctuation, cuts). My train ride from Swarthmore to Temple used to be the perfect length of time and the right private yet public space in which to hear the poem anew and revise it. But even though my commute is smaller now, I still do this at other times; it's a way of having the poem settle into the page and into itself. In any event, I like to see the poem printed on a page and work at it there, too, in handwriting. However: again astonishingly, some poems never had any prior notes or any hard copy, but were simply written and revised on the computer without a trace of prior material or their own archive of stages. An example of this is PrÃ©cis, which I wrote over two summers in Italy, where I don't (perhaps stupidly) have a printer. What interests me about saying all this is how at least in my case, my writing practices and the various platforms and supports and material apparatuses have changed in their relationships over the years. Keeping up with the changes is important; sometimes if a person feels "blocked" it is simply worth changing paper! And second, what is notable is how different parts of the stages of completing a poem seem to be associated with specific writing processesâ€”but these might be different in each individual case. That is, person A might write on the computer first, then work in handwriting, and person B the opposite. For me, the computer now allows a freedom, pulse, and even
ecstatic reach; for another person, it might feel like a nasty little machine that inhibits or is not the place where "real" writing can happen.
Very generally my process involves hunting and gathering, sorting, sifting, honing, and re-presenting.
HUNTING SPOTS: The imagination, the literal (non-literary) world, the online world, books and other media, memory.
GATHERING PLACES: I've filled up notebooks with odd language seen in Japan, have
written whole poems in my head, have jotted down things in notebooks or on stray
pieces of paper that I've overheard or have seen or have remembered, have pillaged books for phrases, data, and ideas and typed them into a computer, and do a lot of Google searching, which I cut and paste into Word for possible later use.
SORTING and SIFTING: I tend to work towards finding commonalities among disparate ideas, phrases, gestures, styles, etc. Also, I try to create a space where intimacy is most possible. Other than that, I edit and tweak for sound, rhythm, and resonances (I was a music composition major), and in some instances for sense and/or narrative thrust.
HONING: It's best if I've set things aside for several months, or even years, before giving it another, "cold," pass.
RE-PRESENTING: I may change things depending on the context into which they'll be presented. A post to the flarflist or my blog may not work for a magazine or book, and another round of honing, this time with an eye literally on what is going to work in the present context takes place.
I’m talking to someone reading returning and I think returning, from what? And I can’t start unless I have first lines. I write it all out on a computer without thinking. When I stop writing I look for a new word in a book to continue writing. The poem has been written in five minutes. I don’t look at it I go somewhere else. I’ll take away from it later. I don’t ever think about it meaning until I promise never to work on it again. I think the best poems I’ve written I’ve written all at once. I have a few good poems that have taken a year to write, but just a few. I have never needed pens or paper. I think it would be interesting to measure the change writing technology (quills, typewriters, ballpoints) has exercised on writing.
I doubt that I could call what I do a “method”. I wish I could; I envy writers who appear disciplined. If I don’t have something to write, I don’t write. I have no scheduled writing time, during which I would sit down at the computer and bang out some poems. My writing tends to be done on the fly, in a notebook or whatever paper is handy. In order to write, I need to be constantly moving and seeing and hearing new things; I rarely write about anything I think of as “inward” unless it is lent ballast by something “outside”. When I have written something in my notebook, and it plagues me all day, I go to the computer and copy from my paper scraps, and then immediately write the poem. I write it all, right then, and usually edit it directly afterward. It is almost as much of a relief as throwing up can be. I can’t really see a poem unless it is typed; my handwriting makes it look unofficial: a fake poem.
I use G. Steins continuous presences with text, and what shows up or strikes me or some times is a miss-read or is triggered I write is down on a long pad of legal paper.. usually the text is connected in a thematic nature, so the process is some what dialogic. I work only with extra fine and very light pen. I revise and revise as I write everyday. than when that section of the piece is done, I transcribe it onto the computer and then revise as I transcribe. I then listen to the computer read it so I do not miss any words and then read it together with my partner. part of the last process is because of my dyslexia...
Laura Moriarity recently asked me a similar question. My response to her concomitantly related the actions/processes of reading (as prime), skateboarding, Dj’ing, city (San Francisco/ Athens),reading (as prime). I’m good for nothing but DVD
reruns of The X-Files after 5 PM so I tend to do my writing in the morning (on my iMAC and a cup of black coffee...how precious). My current project, MOUF, has
everything to do with conversation and Rap music (Bay Area), so lately I’ve tended to mash those two things together and attempt to proceed.
I've been finding, over the past few years, that poems present themselves to me most freely between 10 am & noon. Am I the only one? Something about that time, maybe its' BBC World News on NPR at 9 w/ coffee & croissant, puts me "in the zone". I'm awake enough to write but still have some "dream-lag" going on. My conscious "ego-personality" isn't revved up yet (which tends to happen in the afternoon) & I'm not afraid to take risks. I couldn't even think of writing at 6 pm. How do you do it?
For the most part my method is like yours; I think it's more "natural" and "organic" or at least somewhat less alienated. There are those rare moments where I sit in front of the computer to write a response to some email and that response turns into something more like a poem, but it's very rare and even when that happens I have to print the thing out and then go back to sitting cross-legged on the floor with a pen and revising it before i go back to the computer. it's funny because i just wrote a chatty little essay on music called "typed at the computer, but written in the sun" (which i put up on my Continuous Peasant blog) so I'm glad to see you bringing this up.
I have gone from completely handwritten short jaggedy poems (in my extreme youth) to (now) almost completely written-on-the-computer work. I say almost because I do jot things down on small pieces of paper as they occur to me or as I steal them from conversations or movies or radio programs etc. I carry a notebook but rarely use it, preferring small cut-in-half colored index cards or the like that I can stick in my pocket or wallet. Periodically I type these into a collection place on the computer and play with them. I am undisciplined about writing, except that when it has to happen it HAS to happen, at the expense of all else that might think it needs to be done (I have my priorities). I have tried many methods suggested to me by friends who try to help when I complain about not writing enough at some certain time, but methods like sitting down to write every day at a given hour give me the willies. What I like about writing on the computer is SPEED---it comes closest to keeping up with thought. Also I like controlling the look of things; with handwriting I don't get a good picture of the whole. Years ago when I started writing on the computer big BIG worlds opened up for my writing; I'm not sure why. The computer makes it easy to do a lot of things at once. Also in me it relieves a little of the fear of writing for some reason. Also I love cut-and-paste. And the possibility of typos that might reveal something. Of course I can easily imagine changing my mind about this again and going back to handwriting at some future point, either because of circumstances or on purpose. I had a dream once that I wrote something on the computer and came back later to find it different and wonderful.......but horribly when I woke up I didn't have the lines! In another dream there were buttons on the computer that could take you back to different times in your life. There was no button for the future.
Ron P. Swegman:
I find I compose my poetry (and prose for that matter)at any time and in one of two ways, which both rely not at all on invasive, cumbersome, digital technology. I save the Capitalist computer toys for one purpose only: printing hard copies.
My first method of composition takes place wholly in my mind while I run, hike, or bike. I find the steady rhythm of physical exercise will often open up an image, a word, or a phrase to its possible poetic connections with other images, words, or phrases. Musicality is key, as sound and rhythm are the basic tools for this technique, which can be pictured as anadditive spiral up to and including the final title. As the active time passes, words accrue, and suddenly a finished poem is ready for public performance; writing in the mind, for me, also seals the piece into memory.
My second method involves sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by several blank 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. I use short gold golf pencils and begin to
write away when a good language scrap passes throughmy thought process. I say: "POETRY MACHINE activated!"out loud as I dip into the ether where my real surrounding's fade into the mind's eye space. If the initial inspirational pattern, shape, or tone color of language that has emerged takes hold, I find myself in
this compositional Limbo until the piece has finished dictating itself to me. Much time will have passed, and at the end I find this little document on paper to
document the cerebral experience. I must resemble a 19th-century print of an East Asian ascetic when I write in this manner:
Sitting on the floor,
He transcribes a clear lyric;
My, is he a monk?
rPs 07 19 2005
Plato said "poets have ideas like an aviary has birds." And for Plato, that makes poets untrustworthy. That's fine, though I would say it is the words that aren't trustworthy. But, moreover Mr. Plato, IS birdly visitation or activity within a form NOT thinking? How many forms can an aviary take? Does it matter if a birdhouse be true or false? What happens to the birdhouse if a fleet of starlings shits all over it? Is it ruined, or just shitty? Should a citizen move away and rebuild to avoid a real, live shitstorm?
Not me, I have lots of modes of writing...I'd like to think I have come to live *with* poetry as a method of survival, a permutating series of strategies for engaging what I am confronted with in life happening. Bring poetry to fight back against the programmatic language of everything! Little Birds sounding the buzzsaws of the forest!
I like to write down great things I overhear. I collect funny sounding sentences. I like to remix and/or absurd-ify that which is treated as representative, like stock market figures or dictionary definitions. I like to recycle materials that I am forced to deal with at work, so that my brain does not become stagnant from administrative badgers. I take what is lodged at me, in me, and strum it into funny nothingness.
I see Tom Raworth has written to this posting with some hesitation about writing at the computer as "thinking of writing as programmable in space and time." For me, I write at the computer a great deal because I work (wage slave) at a desk where I am never to move (I need a new job, yes, but the market sucks, so here I sit, chained). So I try to stay creative and anti-disciplined through poetry.
For instance, after moving to New York I decided to engage in some poetic research of the stock market, since it seems our futures (social security) might depend on our abilities to invest and most poets I know have troubled relationships to money and capitalism. So I spent some time at my job using the bosses' resources to figure it. We have an excellent color printer, spiral binding hole puncher and boxes and boxes of those plastic spiral hook bindings and reems and reems of paper and about 800 kinds of publishing software! So I try to look like I am hard at work but really I am working to make poetry out of...uhhh...poop? (when life hands you poop...) Why not?? They steal me. I steal me back.
In other modes I write on post-it notes, as this also makes one look like one is diligently employed.
One angry day at work I re-wrote Elias Canetti's "Crowds and Power" to make it into a critique of the disciplinary workplace. Here is a sample: "The 'good' employee is like a 'good' soldier: supervised or unsupervised, she acts only at the command of her employer; she acts instantly at the command of her employer; and she stands always ready to act.... Each command leaves the memory of a threat lodged in its recipient; those commands which find their targets are never forgotten.
"The man of authority rightly, though dimly, feels that all those to whom he has given commands still remember. At the limit, he is conscious of the danger he would be in if they united against him, and this fear, which is fully justified yet remains vague and unfocused, this endless subliminal awareness of danger, is the 'anxiety of command.' But in the course of a life it increases until, as in certain of the Roman emperors, power takes its toll in madness. 'Responsible for administering electric shock to his cohorts, in time the executive monkey became demonstrably agitated and, despite their injuries, he died first.'"
I write everything in notebooks, then use the computer to figure out what I got. I just got some ribbons for an old typewriter, so I'll be using that too. But everything is hand to page first. That's it.
These kinds of proposals and questions (re: what’s your process in writing a poem for example) leave me with an anti-intellectual reaction (re: hey man, I just write and I don’t want to think about how I write) or conversely, these kinds of questions make me think a lot about HOW I create or compose, and not only that, but after I’ve thought about it, I want to keep it a secret. But it’s not a secret or special. I do not, for example, do something ritualistic like do a tarot reading, play some certain kind of music, or lay my pens out in a certain fashion.
But thinking about this question first reminded me of an interview with Billy Collins in FULCRUM magazine of all places...this in fact is part of the process of myself writing a poem but I will get to that later.... The interview starts off with NOT a question by the interviewer but by Collins himself who states:
Before you start asking questions, let me get right to the heart of the matter. I write with a pen, a Uniball deluxe...And I write sitting down. That would be it: I write sitting down with a Uniball deluxe, almost always at home in a chair by the window.
For starters, the arrogance of Collins’s statement at the very beginning is akin to holding your hand up in a “stop” type fashion and saying: “wait, I know what you all are thinking....” as if you or one were omniscient. Collins presumes that any interviewer, or anyone interested in him or his work, is going to ask how he writes, so the gracious Collins has taken the mystery out of writing, and for his mainstream audience who is so astounded with his writing ability, they are now able to understand: he writes with a Uniball deluxe in a very comfy spot by the window. The mystery of writing poems is solved. In fact, there is no mystery, anyone with a pen or pencil and notebook can write a poem.
I’m not going to debate the populist arguments of “anyone can write a poem” bc that’s another matter. I could argue that Collins’s interview and his poetry for that matter, dumbs down the notion of poetry but that’s another matter as well. But his opening statement is too flip to be taken seriously and a bit egotistical. Is there is a mystery - HOW does one write?
Mystery is perhaps the wrong word. there’s no mystery in jotting down notes on post-it’s or in notebooks, or directly composing on the computer…I believe it more points toward: HOW you got there.
And this might be individualized bt each and every person who responds…as each poet is in their own environment, the environment being a city: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, San Francisco, et al or a specific environment: one’s one room, a coffee shop, a bar, or on the job, or strolling in a park or what have you. So I am not answering your question by answering your question in larger terms. it’s not as if poets are struck by lightening when we’re cycling down the road or on our way to work and BOOM! A line of a poem just popped in my head and I must write it down now! Tho I guess that could happen. What I’m saying is that our poem process is not devised by “divine intervention from above” and if it were, I would recommend a psychiatrist. Unless one argued that they REALLY were channeling Hildegard de Bingen…
So HOW I write is not restricted to a pen and paper or a laptop, tho I may use both instruments. HOW I write is by listening to and sometimes participating in conversations re: poetry, or politics, or at its most blandest, talking about the weather, or listening to an inane conversation on the train. HOW I write is also relegated to the confines of my office, when I look at my 8 bookshelves and all those books on the shelves, or when I look at the news on line, or when I look at the stack of books I haven’t yet read, or…alternatively, leave the house and go ride my bike for a few hours…HOW I write is not just the physical apparatus I use, it is usually what preludes it.
Wallace Stevens composed his poems while walking to work, taking in the sights of Hartford CT, Charles Olson composed while walking around Gloucester MA, and while I’m not Stevens or Olson, I would say I compose by absorbing myself in my environment, whether I am in NYC, Philly or Boston…but to answer your question directly: I mostly write or compose on the computer. Computers weren’t around when Stevens or Olson were living. At the moment I’m blessed with a lot of leisure time, I lack a secretary to dictate my poems to, and I lack a wife to cook for me while I’m busy writing. The computer enables me to lay out my poems in a way that a notebook cannot. In a notebook I am restricted to the size of the page and re: writing and life, I don’t like to be restricted in any way. However, I’ve got a great collection of notebooks and post-it notes with random jottings. HOW I write: I collect and absorb. I have written this while staring at Stein’s How to Write and listening to The Shin’s Pressed in a Book and the Jam’s That’s Entertainment. One could make an argument about pen and page and the engagement of “writing” vs. the computer but I am not going to continue that thought at the moment. Tho I will say my penmanship is atrocious but unfortunately lately, all humans need to know these days is to press buttons. But at least I can multi-task at the same time...
I think your question, at first glance simplistic and basic, is in fact, not. Or rather, it is not as simple as a Uniball pen and a piece of paper and the lucky happenstance of a window view. What if outside your window you were looking at an alley filled with garbage? Can you then write and how?
So my writing process has taken various paths depending on my final outcome, the circumstances, deadlines etc. Currently I'm writing poetry and prose. The prose I write long hand. First I sit quietly holding my hands, back, hips, and eyes in a combination yoga/sazen meditation pose except that I'm sitting in a chair at my desk. After several minutes of deep concentration, listening to breath, focusing eyes on nothing I go to the notebook. Just write,trying to capture the bursts of thought, not editing, making notes, writing whatever comes to mind.
Later I transcribe what's on the paper to computer, revising, and changing as I type. Eventually I will print the pages, edit with pencil then go back to the computer, do this until I'm finished.
Currently when writing poetry I use a similar process. I have composed on the computer, that was a long time ago, before we even used computers that much daily, like in 1987-88, but the computer was new to me, I was just in college, and the language lab had a great computer room. I used to sit in there because it was quiet and compose poems, I liked the immediacy. For many years I composed on a typewriter, while listening to music or the radio, typing whatever came to mind, trying to catch a spiritual wind. Then I would revise in pencil on the typed page, carry that around for a long time, before I typed into a computer and printed.
I guess I practice a variation of Buck’s “Hopper” – mostly it goes like this: I carry a notebook of some sort around with me always, & write down things throughout the day – things overheard or read, bits of conversation, a line from a movie or tv show, etc. I’m also usually carrying around whatever I’m reading: novel, theory, poetry, comic, etc., which is subject to book-marking with scraps of paper &/or post-its stuck to the pages for notes (because despite Susan Stewart’s best efforts to break me of such hesitance, I still have a hard time writing in books). When I feel like I’ve accumulated quite a bit, or when I’m in the groove of working on a project, I type all these bits & scraps into computer, into a document that’s usually called something really clever, like “notes”. That gets printed out so I can carry it around, sit with it, read & scribble over it, cross things out, draw arrows, start to circle the things that look like they belong together, make more notes on that page (or pages). Then back to the computer, where the document gets altered, things get moved, start to look like poems… & then those chunks get lifted out of notes, get their own page or document. The chunks generally have holes in them, & I fill them in. & then mess with line breaks & what the poem looks like – for which I find the computer really vital.
I usually start with sentences that I have collected in a notebook. I like to collect these sentences for a few weeks to make sure that I have enough material
and to make sure that the material is of several different states of mind. Then the real work begins. I generally go through these notebooks and write in list form (by hand again) the sentences that still sound interesting to me on a blank piece of white paper. On a separate piece of white paper, I begin to arrange these sentences into a poem. Only if I like what happens at this stage do I go near a computer.
Sometimes, though, I will use the computer to aid the arranging process, either through using a speech program to determine line lengths or different sorting techniques to suggest alternate sentence constructions.
Writing on the computer makes me think about how printing and alchemy are connected.
Chemical and electrical processes take place and then there are your words, ready to be printed out, already in print form.
It's like I'm piloting a starship. I've always loved to press buttons.
Brenda Coultas says I'm the only person she's ever known to wear "L" off the keyboard.
I haven't identified yet what word I'm overusing that has "L" in it. Love? Like? Limbo? Maybe I use too many adverbs. Usefully, criminally, justifiably, juicily?
I'm so happy they invented laptops.
I have been known to write with a pen during blackouts, incited by neighbor poets Drew Gardner and Katy Degentesh in 2003 to hand-write collaborations by candlelight. I like the Pilot V5, .05 mm. And I like Rhodia's quadrille notebooks.
But the computer is my little room, my android companion, my ambidextrous expression, my printing press.
Step One. Start with a simple index. Here's one I'm working on: off-track betting, beryllium foils, parallel parking, space weaponry and of course Ethics.
Step Two. I then turn to the Sunflower Newsletter and check out the Media Gallery, and I also look through celebrity biographies (chosen at random!), as well as scan (and rescan!) favorite treaties, ranging from the Pelloponnesian era to present.
Step Three (if I need it). I set up a fake hypothesis in my imagination and fill it with small word masses, and I put these in motion inside a kind of "cloud chamber."
Step Four (I'm really stuck if I get this far). I try some other thought experiments involving the void, which I fill with farouche words that give off magnetic properties, "canal rays" (like from Mars!), and semantic discharges, all of which I clump together into rarified syntax sets.
Step Five (ok, I hardly get to do this one). I start nodding off on invisible rays at some teeny tiny level of existence and I imagine the spontaneous disintegration of same until I find myself in a "half-life" where speech still matters.
Step Six (idealized, never done this). I model language as living matter revolving with impulsive energy coursing around particles of text. I might call this artificial transmutation of intelligence if poetry weren't a history of a people enslaved to procedure.
i always keep two notebooks. one is a lined steno pad that i fill with miscellaneous lines in my head or things overhead/found. the other is a more traditional lined notebook (preferably cloth bound) that i write or draft my poems in. i always write with a black pilot precise roller ball pen. in the past year or so i've begun to use the computer more and more. i begin in the notebook, then do a more complete draft on the computer, print it out, and then cut and paste back into the notebook so i can make my edits and play directly on the poem. i have no real set writing time or place. recently, early evening has been my most productive time. i usually begin any work time by reading a few poems by other writers first. lately i have been reading a lot of chris tysh, renee gladman, and robin blaser.
I have the same habit as Anselm; I use comp books, and handwrite everything. When the writing finally gets to the computer, I keep various folders with various titles, like “Incubator,” “Good,” “Unfinished,” etc.
I have a new technique I have been playing around with that I call “Vocog,” and the best part about it, is that it is incredibly fun! I dictate with voice recognition software (hence the “Vocog” tag) into a Word document, and then format as I see fit. Using a heavy accent yields some great results. A sample can be found on my blog.
Thanks for your interesting question. I hardly know how to begin. For months I've been stumped, unable to bring myself to write a poem. I wrote one on Valentine's Day, very much an occasional poem, to thank a friend who had sent me a DVD loaded with rare clips from European performances by Kylie Minogue. That moved me.
A few months later I had the chills I guess, from thinking about all the recent deaths of the poets Creeley, Mac Low, Thom Gunn, Rakosi, so many others, and in a row, or so it seemed, Philip Johnson died, Philip Lamantia died, and Philip Horvitz died. I had one other friend called Phil (Willkie) and I confess, i rang his number and when he answered I hung up, I just wanted to make sure he was alive, but how could you say that? So I hung up. Anyhow I wrote another poem.
It was a poetry of scarcity and lack. Nothing was working for me.
I decided to take a class to get me going, figuring, with assignments maybe I could make a go of it and finish the MS of my second book of poetry. In San Francisco there's a great artists-run nonprofit space called Cell Space, which has had programs for kids and teens for a long time, and now i guess they're starting them for grownups. I saw a class for "Lyric Poetry," which I had never thought much about, and it was dirt cheap, so I joined up, hoping for the psychic breakthrough I longed for. The class is taught by a young very smart guy called Ryan Newton. He's a poet and a printer and the friend of Cedar Sigo, Will Yackulic and Micah Ballard and just got his MFA from New College. I asked him if he minded me enrolling in his class, not wanting to (to be indelicate) step on his dick or anything. He was a bit flabbergasted but eventually agreed it would be okay. I thought of Jack Spicer holding his Magic Workshop and the first one to sign up was the Scots poet Helen Adam, who must have seemed incredibly old to all of the rest of them. But you know what, Frank, she learned something I think, from the workshop energy, and you can mark a note of difference in her poetry after she started working with Spicer and Duncan, Jack Gilbert, George Stanley, Broughton, Dunn, etc. And so i thought that maybe one is not too old to learn after all.
I like it! Have written six poems so far, and one of them is good! I'm taking 2 other classes as well. Just an overgrown schoolboy that's me.