Mark Doty’s “Atlantis”

It is a chilly day in Bloomington, and I’m reading Mark Doty’s “Atlantis” on Poetry Foundation. The poem is startlingly honest and elegant, and it makes me want to dig in more deeply when it comes to my own work. Here are some favorite verses:

I’ve seen
two white emissaries unfold
like heaven’s linen, untouched,
enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,
too cold yet for green, too early
for the tumble and wrack of last season
to be anything but promise,
but there in the air was white tulip,
marvel, triumph of all flowering, the soul
lifted up, if we could still believe
in the soul, after so much diminishment…

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.

Chapbook and Upcoming Flash Piece

I’m thrilled to announce that my chapbook, We Cradled Each Other in the Air, is available for purchase on Amazon. It contains a variety of meditations, lyrical pieces, and absurdist narrative shorts, and it’s part of a book-length volume with the chapbooks of writers Chella Courington and Diane Payne. I’m grateful to novelist Samrat Upadhyay for the following blurb:

“Spendl’s fiction pieces in this chapbook impress and instruct. These sharp gems are like, as Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer has said of this form, ‘flash of fireflies.’ With swift movements they illuminate the vulnerabilities and triumphs of the human soul.”

In other news, my new flash fiction piece, “Crumbs and Porcelain Cup,” will be published by Bayou Magazine from The University of New Orleans. I completed the piece recently–during a lunch break at a local coffee shop–and am excited to have found such a lovely home for it while still riding the high of writing it.

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.

Two New Pieces Available Online This Week

I’m thrilled and grateful to have two new pieces out this week. My poem, “Fat Tuesday in Samsara,” has been published by Lunch Ticket,  the literary journal of Antioch University Los Angeles. The idea for the piece was sparked during a brunch with fellow writer Nicole Lawrence, when we noted that Mardi Gras and the Tibetan New Year took place on the same day this year.

My essay, “In Search of Duende: A Bosnian War Memoir,” appears in Fanzine  today. In it, I describe some memories from my Bosnian childhood and look through another writer’s memoir of the Bosnian War. The piece was difficult to write, and I hope to explore some of the feelings it raised in future work.