Creativity: Thursday Thoughts

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Creativity:
Thursday Thoughts
Kingsbrae 15.1

15 June 2017

The KIRA experience has been very kind to me. It has enabled me to spend time writing and thinking without the necessity of worrying about the daily rituals and necessities of everyday life. In addition, the daily conversations with the other artists in residence have kept my mind focused on the process of creation and this has allowed me to study how I am creating. As many on this blog have noticed, I have been very productive during this residency, and there are several reasons for it. I would like to share some thoughts and ideas with you.

Journal: On 2 March 2017, I received an e-mail telling me that I had been accepted for the arts residency at Kingsbrae. As most of you know, I keep a journal and write in it every day. On 3 March 2017, I started my Kingsbrae poetry sequence. I began by reading the entirety of the Kingsbrae web page and then watched the Kingsbrae Garden videos online. Then I began jotting down in my journal poems and snippets of poems, creative thoughts, metaphors, images,  and ideas. By the time I came to Kingsbrae, I had 90 proto-poems in place. Since they were taken from photos and videos, and were not written in situ, I saw them as prototypes, rather than as the real thing.

The Journal as Poetic Quarry: I look on the journal as a poetic quarry. It contains many stones, some tiny, some larger, some useless, and some very precious indeed. One part of my poetic journey here at Kingsbrae is to go back over these stones, turn them over one by one, discarding the dross, and concentrating on the precious material that has lain there waiting to be re-discovered. Now that I am on site, it is easier to distinguish between those essential words, the ones that really count, and the lesser words, the ones that can be dismissed. This sifting process needs time and thought, and that is exactly what the residency has given me. Writing tip: keep a journal. Mark in red those passages that contain seeds of poetry, images, metaphors, rhythms etc. Return to them when you have the time to do so. Time and space are essential: a time in which to work and a space in which to work. Without these two things , we are lost as writers. ‘I don’t have time,’ you think. Ask yourself: ‘what is more important than a little time each day, spent on yourself and your writing?’ As writers, we MUST indulge ourselves with those two little gifts, time and space. An hour a day is more than enough: find that hour, use it. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is enough to keep us ticking over: if we can’t find that ten minute space, then we are unfortunate indeed.

The Revision Process: As I develop as a writer (and believe me, I am still developing), I realize that the ability to recognize good writing is one of the most important skills that we possess. Re-reading is one thing. Distinguishing the great (oh yes, there are great thoughts and metaphors in those journals), from the good, from the average, from the futile and meaningless is a key skill. All of us have wasted precious time on an idea that just didn’t work. We have worried at it like a dog at an old bone, drooling, gnawing away, growling at ourselves and the bone, getting no nourishment. Leave those ‘dead’ ideas, those ‘dead’ metaphors. Move on to the good ones asap. Our writing time is precious: don’t waste it. Learn to recognize the good and workable from the lesser writings that waste our time.

The Creative Process: “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” This is the first line of one of W. H. Davies’s poems. The Kingsbrae Residency has given me time to stand and stare. It has also given me time to sit and stare. Emptying myself of the daily drudge, I have been able to allow light and inspiration to enter my mind and fill me with creativity. I have discovered that there are ways to do this: meditation, an open mind, an emptiness within that slowly fills, and, above all, carpe diem, the ability to recognize that moment and seize it and exploit it. None of the above is unique to me. If we are at all creative, we are all faced with a simple choice: to develop our creativity or to let it wither. Most of us are too ‘busy’, in the worst sense of the word, to allow ourselves the time we need to create. This is a process we must reverse. We must return to self time, thinking time, emptiness time, metaphoric creative time.

The Value of Art: The modern corporate businessman’s mind is of the type that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. As a result, we have the tendency, as artists, to fall into the ‘price’ mold rather than the ‘value’ mold. If we do not stop and think, if we do not find the time to create, if we do not search for the absolute values that are represented by our art and our creativity, then we count the pennies, add up the costs, and look at the price. Nobody said art was facile. Nobody said that creating the time and space in which we could create would be easy. This residency has convinced me of one thing: that without that time and space, we are nothing but drones, workers, lifeless puppets, going through the motions as other people pull the strings, lacking the spiritual wherewithal … We must stand up for creativity, for being different, for doing things differently, for being ourselves. We must stop being digitalized consumers and become, or continue to be, active, thinking creators. The world needs creativity and art. It needs people who stop and think. It needs people who think differently. It needs artists and creators. It needs us. What we do as artists and creators is precious and valuable. Never doubt it. Never forget it.

 

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

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Kingsbrae 8.3
8 June 2017

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

The end result of the poetic process, however we define it, is the poem. Whether the poem be good, indifferent or bad, depends on a set of critical value judgments of which the poet may or may not be aware at the time of writing. The end product must be allowed to look after itself. But what about the process?

The question is simple, but the answer is more difficult, because the actual nature of the process will vary with each one of us. If the end point is the poem, how do we write the poem, what is its starting point? Is it when we sit down to write? Is it when the pen nib (yes, I still write the old-fashioned way) makes contact with the paper? Is there a pre-writing starting point and if so, where does that begin? Is it in the poet’s head, or the poet’s eyes? Does it reside in touch or scent? Good questions: no answers other than the failsafe … it depends.

One thing that has emerged from this KIRA retreat is that above all we need time to be artists. Art and poetry take time, and artists, whatever their medium, need time to think, time to practice, time to splash paint on canvas, time to sit down and put their head in their hands and meditate … “What is this life,” writes W. H. Davies, the great Welsh poet, “if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

Elise Muller came up with an interesting exercise for developing self-expression. “Write down a question with your dominant hand,” she said. “Then answer it by writing with your less dominant hand.” I tried this. “What do you mean by writing process?” my right hand asked. My right hand held the pen about half an inch from the page and made me stop … and think. I thought about the critical analyses, usually ultra-academic,  that I had written and read over the years. Then I started to organize them into do’s and don’ts. The thoughts of certain serious writers sprang to mind … then I switched my pen to my left hand.

Uncontrolled, uncontrollable thoughts came tumbling out and spilled off the end of the pen on to the empty page that rapidly filled with visual and verbal images: evening falls and the stars grow into flowers in the darkness … three deer enter an empty field and dance on the dandelions … the sky fills with snowflakes that erase, one by one, all the objects in the yard … the tide flows back in and the bay recovers its memories of silver fish beneath the waves … the half -empty / half-full glass becomes meaningless: its essence is to filter the sunshine and to sparkle with light … clouds gather into small, wooly herds and the wind chases them across the sky …

To be filled with poetry and creativity we must first be emptied of the cares of the world. Then, when our heads are empty and free there is space for them to fill with the most beautiful images and ideas. This creative process needs time. Time to download and forget our worries. “Time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows” (W. H. Davies again). Time to be ourselves. Time tobe. Time to become one with nature.

To gain this state of freedom, we need to be free of financial cares and woes. We need to escape from domestic duties. We need to be alone (when we need to be alone) and among friends of a like mind (when we need company). “The time to see when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” (W. H. Davies, yet again). So, in the poetic process, we need that freedom to create, to cut the ties that bind so tightly, to walk and watch and stop and stare. When that old, tired head is empty, the poetry will flow back in. And it will be a poetry not of grinding ideas but of dancing metaphors and sparkling words. “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

KIRA has gifted me with this time, this quality time. Clare and the WYPOD and my Fictional Friends and the Thursday Grunts and my fellow New Brunswick writers have encouraged me to take advantage of it. The process is in process. Some of the results are already being seen on these pages.

My thanks to all those who made this adventure possible. I would also like to thank all those who now facilitate this process every day.

 

It’s Over

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It’s Over

The big top’s empty now.
The crowd’s gone home.
The trainer’s put down his whip
and lions and tigers are safely
asleep back in their cages.
Dim are lime and spotlights.
Yellow glow caravan windows
as juggler and clowns wipe
clean their grease paint smiles,
strip off their sequined clothes,
and prepare for bed. One by one,
the lights go out until darkness
rules menagerie and circus.
Only in the heads of little boys
and girls do the dancers still dance,
the ponies still prance, the tamers
still crack their whips and hold up
their chairs to keep wild animals
glued to their perches, while high
above, in the bedroom’s canvas roof
wire walkers strut their stuff, above
white sheets and the safety nets
of Teddy clutched, and mattress.

Writing Groups: Thursday Thoughts

 

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Writing Groups
Thursday Thoughts
11 May 2017

We write in solitude.

We cannot group-write with a second person suggesting the second word and a third person, the third word. This leads only to the Third Word War or the Third Word Whore, as some would express it.

To write is to be alone. It is to sit alone before a blank page and watch it slowly fill with the black ants that we form into thoughts. With pen or pencil we trace the Morse Code SOS of our Mayday signals. We gather them into groups, press them between cardboard covers, and we send them out to sea in little bottles. Then we sit back and wait, hoping to contact intelligent and compatible life that will approve our efforts and perhaps offer to publish our writing.

We must not confuse the act of writing with the act of sharing.

In many cases, to share is to seek approval. But this is not always true. We sometimes share in the hopes that a listener will suggest improvements to our writing. I think of this as ‘sharing from weakness’. We are unsure of our sharing self and we seek confirmation and reinforcement. We also seek the reassurance that the second person or the third actually has a better vision than the writer and can improve that writer’s offering. How confident are we in our own writing when we constantly look for approval?

Sometimes, our sharing is in an act of defiance. We organize our black ant army. We form it into battalions. We launch them at the enemy and “Take that you bastards,!” we think as we read out our thoughts. Occasionally, our sharing is an act of self-praise. We know it’s good and we want others to realize just how good this piece is and how good we are. Auto-homenaje (Spanish): an act done in praise of oneself.

The act of sharing can be private and confidential. This is when we gather with a group of friends to share our thoughts and creations. This is most useful, in my opinion, at the beginning of a writer’s career. Writers have to become independent. They have to learn to shake off the shackles of doubts, second and third opinions, and the rewriting that comes from the mind of an outside reader. Writers have to learn to stand alone and to write alone. This is where the public reading comes in.

To read in public, as in an open reading given before an audience of unknown faces, is a different proposition. We are relatively confident when we share with our friends. We are not so confident when we read in public. We must be confident in ourselves and our words if we are to stand before strangers and expose ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses, to those who may not love us and some who may actually hate us, looking for any defect, any chink in our written armor.

Beyond writing, yet enclosed within it, is the writer’s desire to be recognized and published. If we are writers, we want our works to be known and read. We want to be published. Even when we know we are not ready to be published or worthy to be seen in print, we like to imagine ourselves preparing that great tome or slender volume of verses that one day will project us into the realms of glory when it finally sees the light of day.

Yet we cannot publish alone. Or can we? Desk-top publishing on our own computer is easy to do. Format the work, print it out, take it to the photocopy machine, copy it multiple times, staple the resulting pages together and we have … a book. But are we satisfied with those morsels of paper that we hand out to our friends? Some people are, many are not.

Let us look at an alternate route: we hand the book over to a press that edits the writing, does all the copying work for us, chooses a cover, binds the book, gives us twenty free copies, and hands us an enormous bill … some are happy with that; again, others are not.

Let us examine another route: we find an online company that will do all (or most) of that for free. All we have to do is market our work … again, some are happy with that; others are not.

Mal de todos, consuelo de tontos. This is a delightful Spanish phrase. It means that when everyone is travelling in the same ship of sorrows, only fools are consoled by the fact that we all share the same fate. Perhaps that’s why writers gather together in groups and perch, like autumn swallows preparing to migrate, on chairs in a drawing room at somebody’s house or gather together in a disreputable, but cheap, coffee house to read, discuss, share, and endlessly talk about the works that never get published.

“You just got rejected? What a pity. I just did too. Let’s compare rejection letters. Paper your walls with them, my friend.”

The carrot that we all seek is the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end that contains the winning lottery ticket: a letter from a publisher offering to publish the book we have written. An Old Welsh Recipe for rabbit pie begins with these wise words: “First catch your rabbit.” The same wisdom must be applied to writers: “First, write your book.”

When the book is written, to the satisfaction of the writer, then, only then, let the networking begin. Then we can reach out to the community. Then we can read in public. Then we can seek out that elusive publisher and follow our own thirty-nine steps to success.

Bu, in the meantime, remember, never forget, we write in solitude.