The Bowie Poems and Thoughts on Manuscript Organization

I’ve been out of orbit for awhile, in terms of blogging, mostly due to balancing teaching, writing, and “studenting” responsibilities.  I’m prepping for my comprehensive exams, so I’ve been maintaining a separate blog of research notes, and the summer term brought my teaching total to 14 courses for the year.  Then, of course, there’s the writing, which is the whole point of this blog, so I’ll get to it!

In short,  the Bowie Poems Project is finished.  It’s been my primary creative focus since late January, and I  just put the final touches on it yesterday.  The next phase of its actualization is still pretty embryonic, but I’ll certainly be updating if and when things progress.  I’m so freaking that this endeavor, which started as a single poem intended to be a one-off, is now a full-feathered creative beast in its own right. In any event, I thought I’d like to use my next few post reflect on the process, as it was a fairly intense one for me.

  • Writing a Collection Poems is Different from “Curating” a Collection of Poems

When it became clear that the Bowie Poems would be more of a collection than a small series,  I really didn’t think about how the production experience would differ from putting together my first full-length collection, or, for that matter, and of my indie chapbooks from my early slam days.  That being said, the sense of accomplishment I felt when I put the finishing touches on my Bowie manuscript was very different from my euphoria upon completing the manuscript for How a Bullet Behaves. I definitely think this is due to the fact that the process for each of these projects was very different.  When I began preparations for How a Bullet Behaves, I had a thematic plan for the book in mind, although it evolved slightly throughout the process.  This thematic thread determined, to a great extent, which poems I selected for inclusion in the collection.  However, I was mainly selecting pieces from a preexisting body of work, as opposed to producing new pieces for the collection as I went.  (I did write a few new poems for the collection as I went, but the assembly process was more organizational and discriminatory as a whole.) The bottom line is, when I wrote the poems that ultimately made up How a Bullet Behaves, I was not necessarily able to envision how they might work as part of a larger collection.  My work on the Bowie Poems was, however, more structured from the start.  As soon as I decided to write a series of found poems using David Bowie lyrics, as opposed to just a stand-lone piece, I envisioned a collection that would organized chronologically, according to album release year.  This not only determined the book’s layout, but also the means of the poems’ production.  With only two exceptions, I following the chronology of Bowie’s discography when writing the poems, as well.  I feel like this created an extra layer of synergy between the writing process and the layout process.  Additionally, because I’d already envisioned a plan for the project, the layout process was notably less laborious for the Bowie Poems than for HABB.

So, what does it all mean?  As a Western author, I’m wary of the Western tendencies of binary thinking, and my purpose is not to pose one of these experiences as superior to the other.  My goal is rather to invite authors to examine the ways in which different factors can influence the experiences they have when pulling a poetry manuscript together.  The elements I’ve discussed represent only a fraction of those that might impact this kind of experience, as many authors have, no doubt, already observed.  In the meantime, I’m currently working on my next full-length collection, and I’m finding that my approach is a bit of a cross between the two I’ve discussed.  While I did write most of the poems with this collection in loosely in mind, I also culled some pieces that had been written quite independently of any intention for a collection.  I’m also still in the process of writing about a quarter of the poems that will ultimately be included.  Now that I’ve reflected upon the process of compiling two previous collections, I’m wondering if they had any bearing upon the way I approached the third.

That’s it for now!  Happy reading, writing, and living.

 

 

 

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The Bowie Found Poems: Space Oddity

Welcome to the lastest installment in the David Bowie Found Poetry Project!  Eventually, I’ll get a better name for it, but at least this one’s descriptive.  If you’re new to the site, you can check out the project’s inception here.   After working with “Diamond Dogs,” I decided to loop back to the beginning, and the second poem in this series is crafted with lyrics from the album “Space Oddity.”

Bless You Madly

A found poem of lyrics sourced from the album “Space Oddity”

 

We broke the ruptured structure built of age,

and I’m not obliged to read you statements of the year,

but my head’s full of murders

where only killers scream.

They say you sparkle like a different girl,

but you cry a little in the dark,

because I’ve got to keep my veil on my face

because I love you badly,

because the rats chew my bones

and there’s a cash machine spitting by my shoulder.

 

Your strange demand to collocate my mind

scares me into gloom.

The hangman plays the mandolin

before he goes to sleep,

before he sweeps the pillow clean.

He dreams our weapons were the tongues

of crying rage

and his, a phallus in pigtails.

I tell him,

Put your helmet on.

I got eyes in my backside

and I’m stepping through the door.

And as the sunrise stream flickers on me,

no purse of token fortune stands in our way

and my spaceship knows which way to go.

 

We burnt one hundred days,

and I still hold some ashes to me.

I can’t touch your name—it burns my wall with time,

unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed,

but I paint that love upon a white balloon

and fly it from the toppest top of all the tops.

 

 

 

Which album should I work with next?

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Grieving for David Bowie Through Found Poetry

On January 11th, I woke at 5:55 feeling sick.  Because I was working from home that day, I took a couple Tylenol, and hopped online, planning to go back to bed once they kicked in.  Almost immediately, I saw the news of David Bowie’s death.  That day, it was not Macbeth, but death itself, that murdered sleep.  Thus began a day of profound grief for the whole world.  I holed up in my bedroom with my laptop, teaching my online classes and intermittently bursting into tears.  I’ve never been so strongly affected by the death of someone I didn’t know personally.  David Bowie’s artistry has had an tremendous impact on both my identity and the way I live my life, and I’m so grateful for the body of work he left behind.  As I’ve been navigating this, there have been moments  when I’ve felt like I didn’t have the right to mourn this loss, or that it wasn’t a “real” loss.  (I also have a weird, irrational fear that, to punish me for grieving over a virtual stranger, the universe is going to take away someone legitimately close to me.  ‘Cause, you know, I need more stuff to worry about.  I think this might come from a combination of a Roman Catholic upbringing and weird, Italian superstitions?)    However, I’m fortunate to have a lot of other friends who are feeling the same way, and there’s reassurance in solidarity.  Additionally, articles like this one by Suzanne Moore are equally validating.

For most artists, art is a way to process grief.  Beyond that though, I also like to think that grief can be artistically productive.  Sometimes, though, it takes me a really long time to get to a place where I can channel loss into any sort of worthwhile art, so I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to write about David Bowie right away.  However, I was going through some writing prompts, and I got an idea for a new project that will allow me to really sit with Bowie’s work, and also pay homage to him through my art.  Over the next several months (or however long), I’ll be working on a series of David Bowie-inspired found poems.  I’ll be creating a found poem for each album (or as many as I can get through), using  lines sourced from said album’s song lyrics.  I chose Diamond Dogs as the first album, because it’s one of my favorites, and also because it was in my car cd player when David Bowie died.  As such, here’s the initial draft of the first poem in the project:

The Season of the Bitch 

a found poem sourced from David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” by Cara Losier Chanoine

Hope, boys, is a cheap thing–

it even smells like a street,

and changing isn’t free

Oh dress yourself, my urchin one!

I’m looking for the treason,

having so much fun with the poisonous people

If this trade is a curse, then I’ll bless you

and run

to a cellar like a church

til the sun drips blood on the seedy young knights.

 

Beware the savage lure.

Mannequins with kill appeal

wrote up scandals in other bars;

hunt you to the ground they will.

You’ve got your transmission

and a live wire

but they’ll split your pretty cranium

to wrangle some screams from the room,

while the lizards lay crying in the heat

 

Give me pulsars unreal,

and I’m in tears again.

You can’t get enough,

but enough ain’t the test.

Gentle hearts are counted down.

We feel that we are paper,

choking on you nightly,

trusting on the sons of our love.

Some brave Apollo,

he’ll build a better whirlpool.

And in death, the shutters lifted

 

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Digital Poetry

What if the experience of reading a poem as text could have more in common with the experience of a live poetry performance?  This is the question that’s driving one of my current projects.

This summer, I took a seminar on digital literature.  We talked a lot about what the advent of digital humanities means for the academy, particularly in relation to our own roles as lit scholars.  (If you’re interested in an overview of the digital humanities, check out this free text authored by some brilliant minds at MIT.)  Ultimately, though, I discovered that my own interest in digital literature extends beyond the academic to encompass the creative, as well.  As a creative writer, the possibility of using digital media to produce literary works is a pretty freaking exciting one.  I can’t conceive of all the potential applications, much less list them here, but I do want to share my thoughts on one way that digital literature can impact poetry, in particular.

As both a page poet and a slam poet, I sometimes feel caught between the two communities.  Granted, there is overlap, but there are also a lot of debates about the importance of content, performance, layout, and form.  It’s pretty safe to say that there are some differences between reading a poem in a book or magazine and hearing a life performance at a slam or open mic.  One major difference is, of course, that one experience is primarily visual while the other is primarily aural.  Another difference is that a performance reveals the poem to the listener line by line.  With a printed text, the reader has access to the entire poem at once ( including things like formatting and length),even if she only reads one line at a time.  The project I’m sharing here addresses the latter difference.  By using a free, online program called Twine, I created an interactive digital version of one of my poems.  My goal was to simulate the line-by-line experience of a life performance, while still using text as the primary medium.  Each line is added to the poem individually, as the reader navigates.  In addition, the poem builds line by line with each consecutive screen, allowing for the reader to consider each line individually and in context of the poem “so far.”   While this reconciles only one, small difference between text and performance, it suggests that it’s possible to use digital tools to create “hybrid” poems that unite some of the seemingly disparate qualities of the aural and the visual.

Here’s the link to the project, a digital version of my poem, “Why I Have Stayed With Things That Hurt.”  You can navigate between screens via the hyperlinks on each page.

Why I Have Stayed With Things That Hurt- Twine Poem

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How Music is Making Me a Better Writer

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the bulk of my time was spent on creative writing and academia.  Granted, that’s probably what you’d expect from a creative writer who’s also a teacher and a doctoral student, but it seemed almost overwhelming.  I felt one-dimensional.  I was worried that I had tunnel-vision, and that my creativity would suffer because of it.  Because of all that, I decided that I needed a new recreational activity.  I have a tendency to turn to other art forms for this sort of thing.  In the past, I’ve worked with acting and visual arts.  This time, I was drawn to music.  I happened to watch a movie that featured a theremin, and decided that I might want one.  I did all sorts of online research, became awestruck by Clara Rockmore, and ultimately bought a relatively inexpensive pitch/volume theremin.  I’ve been playing almost every day, and what I love about it is that it doesn’t feel dire.  My writerly and academic pursuits can sometimes feel really weighty because they’re such a big part of my identity.  When I think about not being a writer or not being an academic, I feel like I don’t know who I am. (Psychologically, this is probably not super healthy, but psychological soundness has never been my primary goal in life anyway.)  I’m sure that many people feel this way about their passions.  I cope with this by adding other things into my life.  Maybe these things won’t become the core ingredients of my identity, but sometimes they become the spices.  They become the subtleties that make me feel like I have more than one dimension.  I love playing the theremin, but nothing about that experience is quantified or qualified by performances evaluations and publications.  It unlocks a sort of freedom that translates into the other, more “serious” areas of my life and makes me a more innovative and productive writer, scholar, and teacher.  What artist doesn’t want that sort of growth in their life?  I guess the moral of the story is that taking a break from what you’re serious about can make you better at it.  And if, in the process, you can learn to play spooky, electronic versions of every tv sci-fi theme song from the past twenty years, so much the better for you!

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Staring Down the Male Gaze

Currently, I’m taking an independent seminar that has me analyzing the male gaze in literature across four different centuries.  I’ve plowed through four primary texts so far, with another four to go, and the whole thing will  (hopefully!) culminate in the writing of some sort of cohesive article.  One of the things I’ve been considering is how these texts not only demonstrate the male gaze, but also challenge it.  In some situations, the objectification of the gaze’s female subjects is pretty blatant, such as in the Marquis de Sade’s Justine.  I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better example of male perspective commodifying women based on appearance and general physicality.  (Come to think of it, this whole project is begging for a Marxist analysis, with a focus on commodification, but I don’t know if I can squish Marxist and Feminist analyses into one paper.  I’m definitely running the idea by my advisor, though!)  However, despite the prevalence of the male gaze as a literary institution, I’m actually finding that the sample of authors I’ve chosen buck the system more than might be expected.  Furthermore, not all of the challenges to the male gaze come from literature of the later centuries.  For example, I was able to find a few interesting anomalies in Madame Bovary, despite the fact that the novel is elsewhere stuffed with examples of the m.g.  Of course, this isn’t to say that contemporary literature is any less impressive in its opposition.  In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson seems to almost entirely avoid the male gaze, despite the fact that her first person narrator is male.  Not only does she eschew this thorn in the side of feminist theory, but she also offers alternative “gazes” that complicate and develop their subjects.

“So…that’s great and all, but what does this have to do with your writing?” you might ask.

Here’s the thing:  This whole project has made me more conscious of the perspectives I create for potential readers in my own writing.  Granted, the male gaze functions a bit differently in poetry than it does in fiction, but I’m a fiction writer as well as a poet.  When I started my doctorate, I decided to go on hiatus from fiction, due to my concerns about balancing a teaching schedule, a grad school workload, and TWO genres of creative writing.  However, now that I’ve been at the whole grad school thing for almost two years, I feel like I might be able to safely pay a little more attention to my fiction writing without completely upsetting the fragile balance of my chaotic little universe.  That being said, I’m now considering how I can best challenge the prevalence of the literary male gaze in my own work.  I worry that if I describe the appearance of a female character, that I might do so in a way that’s objectifying.  I’m trying to pay more attention to how I can use reader and character perspectives to celebrate the autonomy, complexity, and value of female subjects.  This matters to me because my doctoral project has reminded me of how pathological the male gaze is as a literary technique.  I believe that it absolutely reinforces gender inequality in contemporary society, whether consciously or not.  It’s very reassuring to me that a Pulitzer Prize winning novel such as Gilead is also a work in which I find so much progress being made in this area.  For this, I applaud Marilynne Robinson, and hope to follow her example.

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Writing and Masochism

Sometimes, I go through phases that make me feel like everything I write sucks.   As you might imagine, this isn’t great for productivity.  To top it all off, artistic self-loathing also makes it really difficult for me to accurately assess my own work.  Consequently, it’s a real challenge to determine whether or not the writing in question is, in fact, abysmal.    Many craft books suggest that putting your writing “in a drawer” for a few days/weeks/etc. can help you gain perspective on these things.  I tend to vary the theme a bit by just putting my writing in my purse, but I’ve found that the same principles apply.  In the past, here’s what tends to happen when I revisit my work after [ insert requisite amount of time here.]

1.) I discover that the piece of writing in question is so horrendous that reading it makes me feel like I’m having a stroke. This description might be a bit hyperbolic, but you get the point. There have been things that I’ve written that are utterly unusable.  Sometimes, I pull my notebook out of my purse (read: satchel the size of a body bag), reread my work, and decide to not even bother revising the damn thing(s).  To be fair, there have been times when I’ve come across some piece of drivel from years prior, and have actually been able to revise it into something that I feel excited about.  However, these exceptions are few and far between.  Over time, I’ve decided that it’s okay to write things that I can’t salvage.  It’s also okay to right things that I could, feasibly, salvage, but don’t want to.  Furthermore, I don’t believe that these poems/stories/letters to various superheroes are purposeless.  At the very least, it clears the pipes for future, and hopefully better, ideas.

2.) I discover that the piece of writing in question isn’t as bad as I thought it was.

 Let’s say my original assessment of the writing put it at the same level of badness as 1980s era Aquaman.  It’s possible that taking some time away from the writing might help me realize that it’s actually only at the same level of badness as New 52 era Aquaman, which is actually pretty decent.  In this case, I’m usually able to revise said piece of writing into something that I might actually send out to a journal or include in a manuscript. (Something at least on the same level of goodness as Batman:No Man’s Land era Commissioner Gordon)  *Alternate Scenario:  Sometimes, the writing really is as bad as I thought it was (read: Aquaman’s prosthetic hand made of enchanted lake water), but I somehow get a really great revision idea, and am able to do something with the piece, anyway.  The process is basically the same, it just takes a lot more work.🙂

3.) I discover that the piece of writing in question is actually something that I’m totally satisfied with, and I can’t figure out what my initial gripe even was

 Okay, so this one is pretty rare, but it’s happened.  At least twice.  I think.  Sometimes, my artistic-self-loathing brain is just a terrible arbiter of quality.  I like this scenario because it’s a good reminder of how beautifully subjective artistic interpretation can be.  My interpretation of my own work is not the only interpretation. This also serves as a reminder that another person’s interpretation of my work is not the only one that’s valid.  This can be particularly helpful when dealing with rejection letters.  Just because magazine X hates my poems doesn’t mean that Magazine Y won’t want to publish them.

Regardless of which of these outcomes I end up with, I never feel like my efforts are truly wasted. This is not to say that I don’t feel hacky and frustrated when my writing seems bad to me.  It’s just that, creatively, bad writing is probably still better than no writing at all.  I started this post yesterday, right in the middle of a stretch of artistic self-loathing, and expected to be in a similar frame of mind when I finished it today.  However, I just finished writing a poem that I’m pretty fired up about.  The level of goodness I’m feeling about writing this poem is comparable to the level of goodness of The Long Halloween era Batman.  Nothing bad lasts forever, it would seem.

I wrote this post to share some of the less fun parts of my writing process.  I know that every artist has to grapple with challenges, and going through phases when I hate everything I write is, unfortunately, one of mine.  I don’t really have any eloquent, closing words, so I’ll leave you with some written by a smarter, more prolific author than I: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” – William Faulkner

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