Recently I gave a poem-talk at the Nantucket Project, a really brilliant organization that gathers some of the most innovative and interesting thinkers on diverse topics ranging from politics, to art, to business and environmentalism. Here is the talk that I gave below. Please check it out and let me know what you all think!
Nantucket Project Video
I just got back from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where I had an amazing time with their First Wave program. We talked a lot about strategies about writing about traumatic events that have happened in your life. One of the main things that I think is really freeing in writing about trauma is being able to be self reflective through writing, and then being able to create a certain amount of distance between yourself and what you are writing. One of the best ways of doing that is through elements of humor, self-mockery, or personification.
Here is the writing prompt that we did:
1. Make a list of your weaknesses. Make a list of your strengths
2. Make a list of animals, be as descriptive as you possibly can be.
3. Assign each animal a furniture. Describe the furniture object, giving it animal descriptions.
6. Your planet has been moved to Mars. Make it evolve due to environment. Assign it a new trait that it needs in order to survive. What does it look like now?
7. Assign your animal to one of your weaknesses.
8. Read The Hindsight Octopus by Franny Choi:
9. Write your own poem personifying your weakness as an animal, building off the furniture or Mars descriptors.
Hey all! It’s been a long time since I’ve given you a prompt, so I wanted to put one up here. I read this book a while ago and loved it so much. I decided to base this prompt off the first poem in this book, because I loved it so much. If you don’t have this book, you should buy it- its a must read.
1. Make a list of the things that have been split from you. the things that you have had to cut away or disregard because of outside pressure.
2. Pick two of these events and locate them. Write a few words/ ideas on each one of them, trying to aim for situating the texture of each event. What did the place feel like? Smell like? Taste like? Bring us there.
3. Make another short list: What are time in your life that have demanded your whole self be present? Why? When were times that you decided to make space for your whole self?
4. Read Nikky Finney’s poem Errand Girl
5. Write for 10 minutes: What does it feel like, to be deboned? To be split from the rest of yourself?
6. Now, write for another 10 minutes: Reclaim yourself. Go back into those places of split and demand the whole of you back. What does that feel like?
A couple of months ago I wrote a poem for Jonylah Watkins, a 6-month old baby who was shot and murdered in Chicago while her father was changing her diaper. I read about the story while I was on tour in New York and just felt completely stunned- how could that happen anywhere in the world? Do we value life so little that our society can barely blink when a child is murdered in cold blood?
Button Poetry, an amazing spoken word poetry organization, recorded me performing this poem at Rustbelt. I’m putting it up here for you all to watch:
Holy shit. Holy shit! Ross Gay is so so so good. I was introduced to Bringing the Shovel Down by a friend whose writing I adore and from the beginning this book gripped me. The language in this book is so tight and each line break offers a new surprise, which is an incredibly hard feat for a writer. This is an excerpt from my favorite poem in the collection:
“Honeybunny, for you, I’ve got a mouthful
of soot. Sweetpea, for you, I always smell
like blood. Everything that touches me, Lovemuffin,
turns to salt.”
- from Love, You Got Me Good .
Like Jan’s book, this is a book that took me a long time to read, but it was because I wanted to savor every poem. I felt like I was running out of words as I was reading, like they all were being pulled from my stomach and laid out before me. Ross Gay writes with such an easy brutality, it felt like I was constantly being slain. There are so many voices in this book, each one as gorgeous as the next.
I’ve been reading a lot lately and wanted to highlight a book everyday this week that I feel like should be on everyones radar. The first one is:
Allegiance by Francine J Harris
“but, i am not all guilty.
nor can i be all sea.
this is just
a bone song. one we can both whistle along the skin to
in a skulk drag, down
through the rift.”
- From Sift
Francine Harris can write ya’ll. She does so with unbelievable honesty, not afraid to dip into the gritty and vulgar, using everyday language in a surprisingly gut wrenching poetic way. Her poems are incredibly accessible and make you feel very alive, very human, and very woman.
“here comes the mailman.
fuck his footsteps. “
- From There is always someone, that’s the problem.
Its like- what??? Who has the balls to say that? Most of the poems in this book are short and incredibly effective. At times Francine dips into a more prosaic and narrative voice, while still keeping the poetic imagery very much alive throughout. Throughout the book she also experiments with form and approach to storytelling, which keeps the reader engaged and challenged the whole time.
“You Must Stay Drunk On Writing So That Reality Cannot Destroy You.”
Sorry for the delay in publishing a writing prompt! A lot of my writing veers on what I think people consider as “Magical Realism”, though I know that term is really weighted and complicated. Here is a prompt that I used during a writing workshop I led at Brown called “Drunk on Writing,” after the Bradbury quote above.
1. Write a list of things you remember vividly, but could not have possibly happened.
2. Pick one of this situations, and write a list of images in that situation.
3. Take one of those images and elaborate, pushing past the logic of the original situation if you must.
4. Use this language to speak about your memory, personifying the impossible as truth.
Let me know how this goes!
Here is the prompt for this week:
1. Write a list of things that you have heard people say to you in your life.
2. Free write on each item you wrote about how it made you feel to have someone say that to you.
3. Read Jamaica Kincaid’s poem “Girl”
4. Using the form of the poem as a model, write your own instructional poem about your life.
A lot of people have asked me recently how to be ‘un-gaurded’ in writing, how to allow yourself to reach a certain vulnerability in writing and performance that rings emotionally true. I love deeply personal writing: both hearing it and writing it myself, partially because I feel like I never really know about how I feel about something unless I write about it.
So here is part of a workshop that I did with the amazingly talented playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, (author of The Motherfucker with the Hat). Stephen had us all write on this, and it was a very challenging exercise that got people writing from a really emotional place.
STEP ONE: Make a list of people that you have something that is unresolved with. Someone who you need to say something to but haven’t yet, or feel like you can’t.
STEP TWO: Pick someone from that list, and write them a letter. Let your mind go wherever you want, and know that they will never read it.
DONT GO READ STEP THREE UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED STEP TWO!!!
STEP THREE: Now, write another letter responding to the letter you just wrote. It has to be in their voice, back to you. They have to respond. (None of this ‘oh, but he’s a dick and would never respond.’ MAKE them respond.)
STEP FOUR: Read both letters together.
Hope this helps!
First, read “Apparatus for the Inscription of a Falling Body” by Thalia Field. (found here: here ). If you can’t access the article or are too lazy to read, think hard about the title.
Take a verb (such as falling) and think about the philosophy behind it. If it were a theory, what would it be? What would be its properties? How would you prove its truth?
Now, insert the philosophized verb into an unusual or sterile context. Spend an entire day musing about it, writing an observation or a thought every ten to twenty minutes (yes! this is a time commitment!) Time stamp the progress.
Yay! Let me know how this goes