"I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing." - John Cage

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

From our first session of the new Monday Night Creative Writing Workshop: a writing prompt


I discovered this interview guided by Padraig O Tuama with Henri Cole while listening to Poetry Unbound podcast driving to the American River last weekend. If you haven't listened yet to this podcast, give it a try asap. 

Three hours of driving disappeared while I listened in awe.

Henri Cole describing the context for this next poem: 

"So this poem is from, it’s set in Japan, in a town just north in the outskirts of Kyoto, where I lived when I was 45. I was born in Japan and this was the first time back. And in this apartment I lived in two tatami mat rooms, and it had a tiny backyard, but the backyard was just full of praying mantises, of all things. So that was really the context. My father had died and my mother was quite sick."

Pillowcase With Praying Mantis

I found a praying mantis on my pillow.
‘What are you praying for?’ I asked. ‘Can you pray
for my father’s soul, grasping after Mother?’
Swaying back and forth, mimicking the color
of my sheets, raising her head like a dragon’s,
she seemed to view me with deep feeling, as if I were
St. Sebastian bound to a Corinthian column
instead of just Henri lying around reading.
I envied her crisp linearity, as she galloped
slow motion onto my chest, but then she started
mimicking me, lifting her arms in an attitude
of a scholar thinking or romantic suffering.
‘Stop!’ I sighed, and she did, flying in a wide arc,
like a tiny god-horse hunting for her throne room.

Writing Prompt: In this prompt we can mimic one or two techniques from Cole in this last poem. 

One, he has chosen a small moment of an animal encounter to focus on and describe. He has chosen to write the encounter as a conversation. 

Two, he projects his own problems into the life of the mantis, asking it to pray for his parents. The mantis allows him to share this problem and his own situation indirectly while the encounter and the conversation are the direct subject of his writing. 

Choose an animal encounter of your own. Write about it, as a conversation if you’d like. Try to project somehow your own human situation into this encounter. Write without an agenda and without stopping or correcting for 20 minutes. This writing may become a poem, or a story, or part of a bigger writing project.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

How to build your writing community: An eclipse and two workshop opportunities for November/December


Last Saturday morning beginning around 9:10 or so, the day tripped over itself into a standstill. The light faded to sepia. The warmth of the October ground stopped rising with the usual progression, and the air cooled suddenly. I grabbed the colander, the extra printer paper, and the index card with a round pinhole pricked in the center and ran out into my driveway. It was a party out there. My neighbors, kids, dogs - and we each had some tools of the eclipse watching sort. Lots of colanders. I love my community. We oohed and awed at the tiny crescent moons reflected on our blank paper, and we shifted the pinholes around to see the best effect. The shadows on the street cast from the trees and leaves, viewed without any tools, were ultimately my favorite views of this annular eclipse right at the maximum of 85%.

As a writer, I need a community of writers in order to feel productive in my writing. I get validation for the art and my efforts through sharing my experience with other writers. I founded Tangled Roots Writing soon after graduating from Goddard College with my MFA because when I came back to Tahoe, I found myself asking, where are all the writers? I needed to create the community for myself. 

Two opportunities are right around the corner, coming up fast this late Fall for any writer looking to belong within a community and to build their writing skills. In the workshops offered below, you can gather the community that you need for your own art making.

1. The Monday Night Creative Writing Workshop series runs for 6 weeks and the next session starts October 30th. We'll explore craft, technique, and write new material using fun prompts for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. We'll meet for 6 Monday nights online and also simultaneously in my living room as a hybrid format.  The workshop is flexible to offer writers the option each week. The cost is $180. 

2. From the Community of Writers, the Writers Annex offers online short courses throughout the year with a focus on studying the work of a particular founding poet of the Poetry Workshop (held each year at Palisades in Olympic Valley, CA). I've taken a short course deep dive into the poetry of Lucille Clifton taught by Kazim Ali, the poetry of W.S. Merwin taught by Victoria Chang and Matthew Zapruder, and the poetry of C.D. Wright taught by Brenda Hillman and Forrest Gander. They were each of them inspiring for my own understanding of my own writing. I'll be participating in the next course focusing on the poetry of Galway Kinnell, taught by Major Jackson. I mean, Wow, the knowledge and experience of these poets teaching these courses goes deep and wide. My favorite part of the course is learning how the teaching poet thinks about and learns from other master poets. If you want to join me in this next course, it runs November 30th - December 14th, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6 pm.