New Poem in Cider Press Review

I’m delighted to have one of my new poems, “On the Balcony,” in the new issue of Cider Press Review. In other exciting news, Zone 3  has accepted a poem I wrote about my grandmother’s house in the Bosnian countryside. The poem will be available in their next issue. I’m so grateful to be included in these two magazines and to be such wonderful company.

Writing Exercise

Yesterday, I read the Paris Review interview with the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, whose books often combine journalistic reporting with first-person confession. In the interview, Carrère describes a writing exercise he practices, learned from the German Romantic Ludwig Börne:

For three successive days, force yourself to write, without denaturalizing or hypocrisy, everything that crosses your mind. Write what you think of yourself, your wives, Goethe, the Turkish war, the Last Judgment, your superiors, and you will be stupefied to see how many new thoughts have poured forth. That is what constitutes the art of becoming an original writer in three days.

Carrère finds this to be excellent advice and practices it when he is not working on anything. I felt inspired and started it yesterday myself. Even though I often journal, the session yesterday felt different than it typically does. It was as if Carrère had given me permission to be entirely present with my emotions and opinions, and my assurance with the pen grew and grew the more I wrote.

In the end, after reaching clarity, I felt a need to start a new piece of fiction but was dry for ideas. So I did what I sometimes do: I read poetry by writers I admire until one of their images inflated into a whole scene in my mind. The poem that struck me was “Autumn Sky” by Charles Simic, particularly the following stanza:

The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.

The scene it generated was one where two adolescents—country children who have grown up in neighboring houses—lie in a field and look to the stars. Their unusual dialogue moves the piece into a speculative realm, a genre I’ve been drawn to lately. I’m excited to be revising and polishing this piece now.

Loving Oneself and Lisel Mueller

Last night, a friend and I talked about what it means to “love oneself.” I explained that one can learn to care for one’s body through diet and exercise or for one’s mind through study and meditation. But when these practices become routine, is it not easy to start looking past oneself again and not give oneself the active tenderness the term “love” implies?  My friend proposed an active practice: we could perhaps think of personal “faults”—varicose veins, for instance—and then imagine them on the body of a loved one instead. When tenderness emerges—as it inevitably does for many of us, since we cherish others more than we cherish ourselves—we can turn that tenderness upon the same part of ourselves.

Today, reading Lisel Mueller’s collection Second Language, I was startled by the poem “Identical Twins,” which references a permanent, secret “other” inside us all. Here’s the piece:

When they walk past me in the park
I shiver, as if two black cats
had crossed my path. Uncanny,
as if I were seeing things.
As if I were seeing two of me,
myself and the one in the mirror,
who must also be the one
I talk to when I’m alone.
The one I call “you,” who loves me
better than any lover.
It is as though these sisters,
who tie their shoes in their same double bows
and bite their fingernails
down to the same horizon
existed to expose
twinlessness as a sham,
to let us know they know
about our secret:
the lost, illicit other
kept under lock and key
in the last room of the mind.

These days, riding the subway
to work and back, I notice
that the passengers move their lips
ever so slightly. I watch them
lean into themselves
as if toward a voice,
and then turn to the window
to search the backlit face
in the black, speeding mirror.

Max Ritvo Interview on Divedapper

Poet Max Ritvo has passed at age 25. Thanks to the Facebook posts of a number of literary journals, I read his gorgeous work for the first time today. I was particularly moved by an interview with Ritvo on Divedapper. Below is an excerpt, but you can read the full interview here.

Everybody dies with loose ends. You can be ninety, you can be twenty-five. These are my particular loose ends. And it’s been very very comforting not to really try to do anything other than do today. I want to do this interview with you today. I’m not trying to think about whether I’m going to be well enough to edit it. Whether I’m ever going to see it in the world. What happens to me is just the next step. It’s been immensely liberating to realize so much of joy is made worse by trying to make joy stay. And so much of suffering is made worse by trying to make suffering go away. When you’re just comfortable allowing whatever sensations are there to be there, allowing the paths whatever their paths, that is healing.

Poem in Lunch Ticket

The editors of Lunch Ticket, the literary magazine from Antioch University Los Angeles, have just accepted my poem “Fat Tuesday in Samsara” for publication! This is my first poem in verse to be accepted, and I am thrilled and honored to know that it will be included in the pages of Lunch Ticket. I will post a link to the issue once it is out.