What I Like About Writing

What I like about writing, either poetry or the essay, is that I don’t have to make sense. The writing makes sense on its own. The writing begins to make sense as I write, more as an impressionistic whole, a tone, a leit-motif if you will, which takes over the poem, or the essay. I remember watching a program on PBS about birth. When the millions of sperm finally end their race to the egg, as soon as one sperm comes in contact with the egg, the egg is transformed into an impenetrable barrier that all the loser sperm cannot breach. I see the same transformation happen as I write. I have one sentence down, which makes me think of another, and that second sentence then collapses all the other possible pathways the first sentence could have engendered, while simultaneously opening a myriad of new rabbit holes down which I can fall. Writing like this is exciting. As I progress, re-reading as I go, or rather as I become lost, I start to see that I am not lost. One can never be lost if one does not know where one is going, I guess.  There is not a straight linear progress, but it still has a form, more like the orgasmic organic transformations of the earth as the tectonic plates grind into one another, where the musings, thoughts of the writer reflexively bend back and out, an Escher-like reflowing; connections made where none were seen, imagistic moves, themed turns, poetic leaps down the trail of thought: Art. 

A Year of Postings

On February 1, 2013 I decided I would try to post something on this blog everyday. I thought I would fail, because finding time to write has always been problematic.  I figured I could supplement new poems and musings with older poems, after all I have been consciously writing poetry since I was 15. Luckily I do not have much writing still extant prior to the age of 22.
            With this post I am making my goal a reality. I have posted 492 times since this time last year. Not only did I post at least once every day since last year, I sometimes managed to post multiple times in one day. The self-imposed quota has made me do what pretty much all advice to writers from writers boils down to: write every day. Many days I posted something from one of my longer projects from the past: “My Book of Changes”, “If This is A Comedy, Why Ain’t I Laughing”, “Primogenitive Folly,” “115 Missing Days, or “Sonnet, a Renga.” But the majority of the time what I posted were new poems. Even when I posted one of my older works, I still wrote everyday.
            I make no claims to the quality of my poems. But as Charles Bernstein wrote, if you call something a poem, then it is a poem. It might be a bad poem, but it is still a poem. I think I am writing some of the best poetry I have ever written. Yes, that is an arrogant statement, and easily mocked. I don’t have a problem with that; I write poetry.  I like what I write. I want others to read it. Like it, don’t like it; get it, don’t get it: It doesn’t change what I write or think about. I put thought and conscious effort into each poem. I try to write with skill and craft in each line I lay onto the page. I enjoy the hurdles of self-imposed structures, coupled with random chance and whim.
            Ultimately, writing everyday has given me a space to think about the world and my place within the life I have managed to carve out. It has made me more attentive to my thoughts and normally roiling emotions. If nothing else, this has been a positive influence, forcing me to examine the vicissitudes of my condition with a more contemplative eye.
            I will continue to post as I write. I am currently working on a project with my sister Donna Neal, the visual artist, based upon the tarot pack. So, the poems should still come on a fairly regular basis for a while. I am not going to worry too much if I miss a day or two along the way however.  I hope some of you have enjoyed the flood over the last year, and will continue to read what I write.

(January 31, 2014)


it’s always and never just about dying
to write out the life I find myself in
as if by happenstance I arrived here
rather than a chain of simple choices
and long obsessions which dragged me along
unwittingly devoid of any will
beyond the briefest yes and no response
to uninspired trivial decisions
come work at Wendy’s the bakery this school
I did and there I was and here I am
adrift like a leaf upon a slow creek
hung up momentarily on a root
or twirled backwards into my own eddies
lost in my handwriting upon this page
(September 23, 2013)

On the Essay: After a Conversational Meeting on the Essay.

       I write essays about what I am thinking about. Topics tend to unfold around my obsessions. Several years ago I wrote about the anger, which exploded in me as I encountered the cognitive dissonance of being a working teacher and being a doc student in curriculum and instruction.  Everything, which could be wrong was being done in the schools, anything, which could be a glimmer of hope was being snuffed out faster than cockroaches in a Raid commercial. A friend of mine, a fine essayist, said she wrote from anger. She would, she said, drill down through the layers of her emotion to find a deep anger in her topics and that anger would be the driving force behind her essays.  I find anger to be too volatile, although I often become angry about my topics. I think anything you think about in an authentic manner becomes emotional. After all we are emotional animals who invest part of ourselves into what we are thinking about, but that does not necessarily mean that the writing becomes emotional rants. 
       The essay is a way: a way of thinking, a way of discovering what it is you are thinking, a way of testing ideas, rather than a test of what you know about ideas. Montaigne called the essay a wandering along the way.  Virginia Woolf said it was the mind tracking itself. I like the essay because of its freedom, the flow of thoughts running along the page. I like the discovery, the unfolding of the topic as I write. The way the structure eventually reveals itself as the thoughts progress. In a class on the Essay I took when I was in grad school at Bread Loaf with Shirley Brice Heath, we defined the essay as conversation with oneself. It is a multi-vocalic conversation, almost a call-and-response as you move through the ideas you are exploring. The writer questions, doubts and explains to herself the subject in the process of writing about the subject. It is a process of writing where the process of thinking is reflected in the written product, where the enjoyment of reading the essay replicates the enjoyment of writing the essay.
       It is similar in many ways to sitting on the back porch with erudite friends who are having a serious or jovial conversation over a glass of wine.  The essay is convivial and democratic, rather than autocratic. Just as in the free flow of conversation, the participants in the conversation rarely have a pre-planned agenda of where the conversation is going to end, or even a pre-planned topic, the essay starts where it starts and eventually comes to an end. In hindsight the end makes sense when one looks back over the course of the conversation. Almost as if one had planned it all out on the page. Almost.

(September 21, 2013)

It’s Not About You, or Even Me

In a graduate class with Walt Litz on the Modern Long Poem, he said that there was an occasion which caused Wallace Stevens to write each of his poems, but that did not mean that Stevens wrote occasional poems.  Obviously, there is always some event, phrase, person, occasion which causes a poem to begin in the poet’s mind, but that does not mean that the poem is about that event, phrase, person or occasion. As an undergraduate in English, we were taught “New Criticism” (although, at least, at the University of Texas in the late 70’s, it was never taught as a named form of Criticism). It was frowned upon to bring in biographical information when writing essays about poetry. The text itself was enough to write about, outside information was unnecessary if not unwanted. When I write, there is also some initiating push, which sends me chasing the words to the end.  I rarely, if ever, know where I am going in a poem. One of the thrills of writing is the discovery of the poem as I write it. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a love poem” or “how about a sonnet today?” I just write and then find the heart of the poem as I fall into the flow of words.  Of course, the poem is my thinking, whether I am conscious of the thinking or not at the time of composing the poem; yet that does not mean my thinking is tied the concrete of my daily encounters with the world. For the most part my daily encounters with the world are sparks which ignite my thinking into the abstract which then cause me to try to recapture the process through the language event of the poem. Occasionally, I find a poem about something more than the occasion through this process, and my world is widened as a result.
(August 9, 2013)


I left at work the green leather notebook I carry around with me to write in when ever I have a moment. I had a vague idea I wanted to play with; so I went to pull it out of my bag, and it wasn’t there. A wave of panic moved through me. There is something wrong, when I have tied so much of my calm into an object. Even now as I write this my shoulders are tense as if someone were wringing my muscles like old rags, beaten on one too many rocks, not many threads left to hold water. I know that I often use writing as a buffer against the world, but when I have invested so much of my identity into an object, it has moved beyond a tool to use to work out my life to a fetishistic icon that has become more important than the writing, the process. Of course, my solution to dealing with the stress of not having my notebook is to sit down immediately and write about it. Somewhere in this wave of words, I can wash out the terror of not having my book, the story I tell myself about myself; of not having my security blanket to wrap myself in and hide from the world.  I know I will find it on my desk tomorrow. Yet, I also have a gnawing fear crawling along my spine like a wharf rat along a ship’s rope that it will not be there; it will be lost. And that fear is causing tremors to move through all of my faults.
(March 2013)

Reflections on a Month of Writing Everyday (almost)

At the beginning of February, I set the arbitrary goal to post something on Subtext each day. I have found over time that if I set goals, or establish a project around which I am writing, I will write more than if I just go through my life writing willy-nilly. Writing is difficult; so it is something that most rational people would not choose to do, because it causes anxiety by the sheer amount of honesty it requires. (or the equally difficult amount of dishonesty, if one is the type of writer who hides even from himself). I am compelled to write by whatever urges drive my life. Writing allows me to explain the world and myself to myself and the world.
When I go through periods of more sporadic writing, it is as if there is some loss in my life. Normally, these periods don’t last long, because I either read an incredible poem, or book, which makes me want to write, to try to create such beauty on my own. Reading inspires me to write, or I hear some phrase, either from someone else, or from my own thoughts, and that drives me to the page. Writing is cheaper than therapy, and as an introvert, writing is more comfortable as well. The year my mother was dying, my doctor prescribed an anti-depressant to me; I did not write much that year, didn’t feel much either.
It was interesting to try to write a poem a day. I knew I would probably fail at this imposed quota simply because the requirements of my life would get in the way. I figured I could just use poems I have written in the past, and had not posted yet, on days when my resolve faltered. And I did that a few times, posting a poem I wrote Lisa for Valentine’s Day in 1993 when we had no money, and a couple of others from a series I wrote in 2005-2006.  For the most part, the 29 posts in February were all new, which was cool. I was fascinated and almost disturbed by my obsessive drive each day to write something, anything; just so I could get something out to post. I wrote a fairly eclectic range of styles/types of poems, even if I still orbited my usual themes and obsessions. But that is to be expected, I write about what I think about, and they are only about me in as much as my thoughts are a part of me.
I have for the last several years wondered if poetry was fiction or non-fiction. According to an old acquaintance, the American Library Association classifies poetry as non-fiction. But I can’t see that when I think about poems like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or The Changing Light at Sandover. Poetry crosses back and forth between the two categorizations, being simultaneously fiction and non-fiction. Living, like werewolves, on the border line of both countries, between the living and the dead, the real and the imaginary, or perhaps as Wallace Stevens said about everything: poems are always moving toward the real, creating and changing the real as they are read and absorbed into the current (the confluence of great rivers?) and ever-changing location of culture. (Had to put in a Bhabha reference).
(February 2013)