A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Tamara J. Madison about her book Threed, This Road Not Damascus (Trio House, 2019).
Tamara J. Madison, both on the page and in voice, is magical. In her most recent collection, Threed, This Road Not Damascus, she seamlessly bridges the gap between past and present while remaining grounded in the here and now. Via her use of religion, familial history, and rhythm she is able to give voice to those women who oft times were forced to remain silent in order to survive. It is through her poetry that these women, and those still to come, are allowed to be wholly free. Madison creates a new mythology here. A mythology that begins to lay the groundwork for us to create the worlds in which we want to move. She leaves us with the lingering sense that the makings of the universe are in our hands. All we need to do is mold it and name it.
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, with writers around the world diving into their novel or rebel projects. Words are spattering themselves upon page like rain — either in drizzles or downpours. Plotlines are taking root. Characters are waking up and blossoming into shape. Scenes are growing lush and vibrant.
At least, that’s the blessing I send out to all my fellow writers this month.
When I announced my intentions to partake in NaNoWriMo this year, one of the main methods of preparation was to eliminate all future considerations — all the little thoughts of what this new novel might be or become. In my first four days of working on the project, I have managed to get ahead of my daily goals, reaching just over 8,500 words. Along the way, it has been interesting to observe the little games my mind started playing, jumping past the present to future possibilities. Each time, I had to rein those thoughts in and find a way to keep writing.
Brain Game One: Future Success — The first day of working on my new novel was incredibly successful, which was a surprise and a delight. It had been a long time since I had such a smooth writing day, and I was proud of the words I wrote and the direction the story was taking. My brain, noticing me reveling in the pleasure of my success, immediately began jumping ahead. THIS would be the novel, this will be the one to achieve an agent and a publisher, oodles of money and awards, and —
Knock it off, I told myself. None of that matters right now. All that matters is here in the story. Who is this person you’re writing? What comes next? Stick to writing in the now.
Brain Game Two: Future Editing — As I continued on the second day, I found myself discovering the characters and what would happen to them through the act of writing. I allowed details and traits and events to evolve throughout a scene, allowing contradictions to take place and letting them lie, knowing I could come back and visit it later. My brain, however, would not let it be, insisting on telling me all the ways the previous passages would need to be fixed and fixed immediately.
Thank you, I told myself. But let’s worry about those things at another time. We’re focusing on the first draft. Let’s write in the now.
Brain Game Three: Future Failure — The process of writing is always shifting and not every day will flow smoothly. It was inevitable that self doubt would make its appearance, and it did on the third day. My brain fell right into lock-step, questioning whether these words would be good enough or whether this would just be another novel to sit languid in a drawer, ever unfinished.
Hush, I told myself. Everything’s okay. It’s a draft. It doesn’t have to be good enough. Just keep going, stick with the story and see where it leads. Write in the now.
. . .
As the month continues, I’ll have to face thoughts like this over and over again. It’s a continual process of pulling myself back to the present moment, taking a deep breath, and writing from where I’m at in the her and now. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the act of writing — which is exactly what I was hoping to get out of my NaNo experience this year.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or working on any kind of creative projects this month, let me know how you’re doing. Do you find yourself fighting future thoughts? How do you deal with such thoughts and keep moving forward?
. . .
Note: This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out the archives and/or subscribe:
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.
Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s Brute is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention.
One of the things I love about this collection is the way the poems reflect the present moment — ripe of cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other, while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairy tale world just waiting to eat her up. Gorgeous work from Skaja, who I recently interviewed for the New Books in Poetry podcast. I need to finish preparing the episode and hopefully I’ll be able to share it soon.
Another great collection of poetry that I read this month was Head by Christine Kanownik. Drawn in by the gorgeous cover, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of poems centered around beheadings — whether saints, royalty, or commoners throughout history. She uses a mixture of of forms to explore the nature of power and the meaning of death.
I’m a long-time fan of the National Novel Writing Month (belatedly called NaNoWriMo) challenge to complete 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. (If you want to know more about it, a recent episode of Annotated looks at the history of the NaNo challenge and why people dig it.)
I’m not entirely sure when I first starting taking part — probably around twelve or so years ago (way back in my LiveJournal days). I was immediately drawn in to the sense of camaraderie inherent in the challenge and often attended local write-ins, where I was able to sit down with a dozen other writers at a coffee shop and share in the experience of putting words on the page.
Some of the years, I completed the challenge, and some of the years I didn’t. Either way I always enjoyed the experience — regardless of whether I churned out anything editable or not.
It’s been several years since I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (the last one being in 2014), and I’ve finally decided that it’s time I jumped back on the bandwagon.
A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with Jason Bayani about his new book Locus (Omnidawn Publishing 2019).
“Poetry gave me back a way to find my culture, my history,” says Jason Bayani while discussion his new book Locus (Omnidawn Publishing 2019), which blends memoir and poetry into a stunning exploration of fragmented identities and the Pilipinx-American experience. Drawing inspiration from hip-hop and delving into the knotted complexity of family history and relationships, Bayani is able to recover a migrant identity and experience that is often silenced and shape a confident declaration of selfhood in American culture.
“In my grandfather’s last days
He wandered the rice fields alone.
What was left of his mind bringing him back
to what he spent his entire life building.
We are the land — lupa ay buhay, land is living.
When my father talks of his poverty, he presents
a bowl of rice and says, ‘Your Inang
would put one piece of fish on the table,
and we would press our fingers
against it for flavor.’ Mimicking his hand
scooping rice out of the bowl.”
— fragment from “The Low Lands”
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice — and you can join New Books in Poetry in a discussion of this episode on Shuffle by signing up here.