Friday, July 31, 2015

Bookmarks List/Bedside Table

"Clouds Rise,"

Currently reading and enjoying:

-This intense, beautifully-written article by Alison Stine at Narratively, "The Body Behind the Little White Church."
-"Identification, Please," an article by Helen Macdonald in the New York Times Magazine. I hadn't read her work before, but I love her voice and perspective! I also enjoyed this interview with her in Guernica (and will definitely be reading her book, H is for Hawk, sometime).
-This fun color palette generator.
-These stunning poem-gifs by Lisa Ciccarello and Emma Trithart in Poor Claudia.

And you, friends? Whatcha reading? Hope you have a terrific weekend!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Like Poems. Now What?

"Letter to a Poet," by
Today, I was talking with a lovely friend (hi, Alison!) about poems on Twitter. I’ve noticed that she reads poetry, and often, when I see that someone is a reader of poems, I’d guess that they also write them (or would like to).

She mentioned a weird nightmare that she had (about the alphabet! What a delightful, odd topic for a nightmare!), and I said she should write a poem about it. Her next question struck a chord with me. She said she did want to engage this part of her mind more, but wondered how to begin.

It’s a question I hear, in various forms, very often. Someone (a student, a friend, a reader, or even a stranger) confesses that they like reading poems, and that they write them. This isn’t the slightest bit strange to me—-I absolutely love when this happens! In high school, it was me doing the confessing and asking, to every teacher and writer I had access to.

The question has various subtexts and hidden questions within it. Embedded within this question, I also hear these concerns:

-Can I write poems? I’ve never done it before. (YES!)
-Who is allowed to write poems? I’ve never “studied” poetry. (ANYONE is allowed to write poems. We don’t have to be experts to make art!)
-My poems might not be any good…what if the poems I write are crappy or ridiculous? What if no one wants to read them? What if I fail? (It’s good to write. Period. I hope you write some terrible poems, because those will only help you. I write so many bad poems…in fact, sometimes I start by telling myself I’m going to write a bad poem. And “failure” is very low stakes here…no one will be harmed in the making of your poems!)
-Is it weird that I want to write poems? Is it childish/self-indulgent/silly? (We are all weird, but it is a good kind of weird! There is absolutely nothing “wrong” with wanting to write.)
-Should I try it? (YES!)
-How do I start? How do YOU start? What is the first step? (Let’s unpack this one).

A Completely Inexhaustive, Low-Pressure Guide to Writing Poems
(Some exercises and tips for getting started)

1. Read some different kinds of poems.
Start with contemporary poets, maybe ones you’ve never heard of. You don’t need to be an expert in poetry to write poems—you’re just getting some new voices, tricks, and muses in your brain. No need to be overwhelmed. Great places to start are online journals, especially ones that post a new poem each day. I love Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, and A Year of Being Here. If you’d like to look at a poetry journal, you might start with Poetry Magazine—you can read it in print or online.

2. As you read, notice what you like.
Print poems out. Copy lines you like. Write in books (if they’re your own). If you notice that you like a certain poem, Google the poet and see what else they’ve written.

3. The hardest part—actually write.
You can treat it as freewriting, where you just set an amount of time and try to fill the time with writing (without judging your work at all). Maybe start by saying, ok, I’m going to write for 20 minutes. Or an hour. Whatever sounds appealing to you. Write anywhere you like, on any material you like—notebook, computer…experiment with it! Or maybe you have a word that’s inspiring you, or a title, or a concept (like the example of Alison’s nightmare about the alphabet). Force yourself to try it. Don’t worry how it will turn out!

4. Wait. What do I write about?
This is WHY writing is so damn tricky. Every writer starts with nothing, and then has to make decisions to create SOMETHING. Don’t let this keep you from starting. Here are some tricks to get started (some of which I use when I write), if the words aren’t coming:
-Give yourself a mini-muse. I like to look at images in order to start writing—I look at the image and ask myself, “Self, what do you notice? What does this remind you of? What’s interesting about this to you?” Look at a photo or piece of art, and write what it brings to mind for you (ANYTHING!). Here’s an image to start with. And one more. You could also start with a song, scene from a movie, object, or food…it just gives you somewhere to start.
-Introduce some randomness into the mix. Pick up the book nearest you, flip to page 37, and look at the fifth sentence in. There’s your title. Write the poem that accompanies it (even if it’s ridiculous!)
-Write about a specific place that you care about (a beach, a park, a street, a room, a yard). Try to put the reader there. What are we seeing/feeling/hearing in this place? What happens there?
-Use the voice of a character to write. What if James Bond wrote a poem? Or a dog? Or Cecil the lion (so sad)? Or your second grade teacher?
-Borrow a style or trick from another poet. Maybe you read Danez Smith’s “alternate names for black boys” and write your own “alternate names for  _______.”
-Peruse some other poetry prompts! Here’s a huge, great list of them at Writer’s Digest, courtesy of Robert Lee Brewer. And here’s another list of them from Poets & Writers:

5. Repeat.
DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE INSPIRED TO WRITE A POEM. (This will leave you waiting and waiting!) Set a little, helpful, realistic goal for yourself—maybe it’s to write twice a week, for 20 minutes each. Or to write during your lunch break on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Or to write for an hour in the evenings, once a week. It’s almost like setting up a workout schedule—you are strengthening your poetry muscles.

6. Stretch a little.
Try something new related to poetry. Visit a bookstore (used bookstores often have the best poetry selections) or library, and thumb through a few poetry books that you are attracted to, just because of their covers or titles. Go to a poetry reading, or watch some poets reading their work on Youtube (you might try Button Poetry or—cough, cough—the Paging Columbus Playlist). Be brave, and ask a friend who writes poems to swap poems with you.

To anyone who wants to write—please do! There is always room for more poems and art.

I’d love for you to share your questions and thoughts and advice, too. For those of you that write, what advice would you share? What’s been most helpful for you in writing?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

To Speak as a Floorboard Speaks

by Teresa C. Freitas

To Speak as a Floorboard Speaks

would mean that all touch is pressure
An abrasion or an object giving its weight
to you To become an x-axis your pantry
must be stacked with patience
or the inability to go elsewhere on your own
Tree I wish I could tell you that this
was an appealing future but how can I fault you
for dreading your next life Except that you
get to become the ground

[Image above by Teresa C. Freitas]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Isaac Levitan's Skies

"Clouds," 1895, by Isaac Levitan

"Fog Over Water," 1895, by Isaac Levitan

"Before the Storm," 1890, by Isaac Levitan

Monday, July 27, 2015

Rain Scatters Itself

"Conversazioni," 2011, by David Benati
Rain Scatters Itself

While hiding from rain we can all become friends
with bugs Poor lightning bug clinging to my shoulder
When you get wet what happens to your body
to your light You can wait out the storm as if it were
a large creature ambling past the opening of your cave
There is no malevolence in its heart There is no heart
in its heart For weather there is no death only reincarnation
and in this way all shards of rain have been here before
and will come for us again

[Image above by David Benati]

Friday, July 24, 2015

An Optical Poem by Oskar Fischinger

Yesterday, I saw this "optical poem" (shared on Twitter by artist Ward Jenkins), and it really intrigued me. I couldn't believe it was a stop motion video, made with paper (in 1938, no less)! Oskar Fischinger seems like a very intriguing artist.

I don't know if I'd call it a poem or not, but it's very visually pleasing. When I was little, my sister and I had a lava lamp in our bedroom--it reminds me of that a bit!

Happy Friday to you, friends.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

When She Sat Down She Thought She Might Never Get Back Up

by Kindah Khalidy
When She Sat Down She Thought She Might Never Get Back Up

Because it is in the body to crave safety
and who can blame it An elbow conked
wants a steady palm A bedframe-struck toe
wants to be hugged Within one body
parts will play patient and other parts doctor
Pain is a warning that seems like a
punishment Imagine existing without it
Floating along the street like the pale sheen
of a pond at dusk Barely of nature
No dirt to slither our tendrils through

[Image above by by Kindah Khalidy]

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"There Are Birds Here," by Jamaal May

"Spread Your Wings," by Mo Cornelisse

There Are Birds Here
By Jamaal May
For Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.
[Image above by Mo Cornelisse]
[Poem text via Poetry]

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

They Built Mazes

"Prayer, "2015, Catherine Mellinger

They Built Mazes

I walk and around me where the world
has fallen in my eye attempts to correct it
To drag the sidewalk’s edge through the rubble
or grass like a bandage for those who benefit
from flattened hard earth to walk on Just this week
I saw a building yanked up from the roots leaving
a deep hole A muddy socket The first maze was
invented was dreamsprung when enough people
saw war grinding their fine city into pebbles
and shrapnel Whole walls brought down to block
the path to a field or to market A lover’s home
swallowed up by its own grimace This is the
violence that the labyrinth slithered from
The violence and the hiding from it

[Image above by Catherine Mellinger]

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Storialist Turns Seven!

While I was thinking about this post, I remembered a poem I’d read in a workshop in grad school by one of my classmates, Heather Kirn Lanier. It was called “Ode to Seven,” and was about the mysterious recurrence of the number seven in folklore, religion, and medicine (and also a beautiful tribute to her father). I remember learning from her poem that our bodies undergo cell regeneration every seven years.

That’s a pretty amazing fact, isn’t it? Poetry teaches such wondrous things.

This post marks the seventh anniversary of The Storialist. For seven years, I’ve been posting poems, art, videos, interviews, and links. This online space—and the space I include in my life in order to write—remains one of the kindest gifts I’ve given to myself. My work here directly feeds the beast that demands that I write; it also soothes that beast, somehow, when I get too hard on myself.

I constantly battle to balance the urge to create with the urge to feel PRODUCTIVE (this is also a Virgo-Leo cusper thing, I’d wage). I’ve learned in the last couple of years that sometimes, creativity demands a certain slowness and patience. The most valuable creative moments might actually be when I’ve seemed the least “productive.”

I wonder if anyone else relates to this. I often think about this in regards to teaching writing. I like to talk with my students about how helpful it is to identify the ideas already on the back burner in our minds. It’s not about waiting for the perfect moment or concept—it’s more about letting an idea IN, and letting the mind mull it over. This might look like procrastinating (and maybe it’s one form of it!) in that very little is happening externally, but internally, there is PLENTY happening.

Lately, I have more and more of an appreciation for getting out of a task mentality when it comes to creativity.

I know that the next year will bring new ideas, failures, and changes (as always). One enormous change—my husband and I will become parents in December. We’re so thrilled to be expecting (it’s a boy!). Many of the (terrific) poets I know are (terrific) parents, but I know that parenthood dramatically changes our experience of time, and our seeming control of it. Already, I’ve experienced this—I can’t believe that I’m at the halfway point of pregnancy right now. It’s absolutely FLOWN by.

Right now, I just feel full of gratitude. Gratitude for the little human coming to meet us, for having a supportive partner and family, for the artists/writers/readers I’ve connected with over the years, and for the balm and tonic that art and creativity continue to be in this life.

Thank you for reading this. I so appreciate you, reader. In the next year, let us all experience the desire to make and the ability to luxuriate in creative stillness.

On to the next seven!

Previous anniversaries:
July 2008
July 2009
July 2010
July 2011
July 2012
July 2013
July 2014

In my natural habitat

Friday, July 17, 2015

Geppetto's Workshop!

 Are you ready to have your socks charmed off?

Then enjoy this short and lovely video by Aeon Magazine, featuring a French toy workshop that carves their tops and whistles by hand (on a lathe). It's not EXACTLY Geppetto's workshop (probably still a little more hi-tech), but is quite adorable. The process shown in the video is so enchanting and ridiculously satisfying...enjoy!

Watch it here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


"El que quiere celeste...," by Maria Sarandn


If an image is beautiful but inaccurate
how ethical is that beauty

For instance in the arm of an airplane seat
occasionally we will see a silver rectangle
responsive or unresponsive to our touch
marking where an ash tray would have been

And it seems plausible that sealed within
countless metal arms would be the ashes
of a cigarette enjoyed in 1973 or 1981
chalky marrow inside the bone of the arm
under your arm

For an image to be true what exactly is required
of reality

[Image above by ]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lulie Wallace's Flowers

"State Flower of Texas--Flowers for Kathryn," by Lulie Wallace
"Flowers for Becca," by Lulie Wallace
"Flowers for Evie," by Lulie Wallace

I just love these paintings of floral arrangements by Lulie Wallace. Her work has such wonderful color and texture, and is just so darn happy! (She's also quite fun to follow on Instagram.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


"Skyscape 5,"  Heike Negenborn


What has been taken away will return
and it is already In pieces
Leaves crawling up your sleeping supine
night body The farthest hems of oceans
folding back like bedsheets

But with your breath

    and here is what will cause dissatisfaction
    and for this I am sorry

you push away
any faintly loose-edged thing

[Image above by Heike Negenborn]
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