Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"I will take a paragraph..."

You already know this, folk, but I'ma say it again.

Love me some Arthur Rickydoc Flowers!

Arthur and another fave writer, George Saunders, are up at Syracuse guiding new generations of wordsmiths. Arthur, a word wizard in a category all by himself and one of the few practicing Hoodoofolk in Higher Education, also blogs about being in and out of the woodshed, revising his novel, Rest for the Weary, while teaching in Syracuse's MFA program, caring for loved ones, and traveling all over God's Green Earth, including sojourns to Kenya, Ghana, and India to nurture new writers there. Talk about gettin' yo' lesson... He recently posted this bit of bliss on the importance of remaining focused and positive during all the cycles of your creative work:

"...focus flowers focus, step by step and inch by inch, spent last two days focused and got maybe a page out of it but im satisfied, i will take anything, i will take a paragraph if i worked hard for it and thats what i got thats what i got"

=Arthur Flowers, Rootwork the Rootsblog, a Cyberhoodoo Webspace

"i will take a paragraph if i worked hard for it..." Indeed!

I'ma take this as good gospel and spread it all around. The writers I know can get religion 'bout a paragraph. These days, we getting religious about a line. Every word must conjure, true, but if you ain't been writing since 1499, then you better believe, every word counts, even the 'tow down sucky ones.

I, for one, have been silent in this space for so long, I forgot my own password, but Black Pot Mojo is back and percolatin' a bit. And why?

Got my Firstborn womanchile in college, thank you! and didn't lose but a lil bit of my mind, a tiny chunk, during the process. Shoutouts to all the mama and daddy artists out there, doin' the same.

Also taught my first workshop session of the new cycle at the Center last night. Seven folk round a table, looking slightly vulnerable, but excited. Always an interesting group of writers, some with stories they have been waiting for years to tell. Mostly trying to grapple with what I'm grappling with now on this crazy new story that keeps bumrushin' my dreams - writing a dang beginning, middle, and end, in that order, please. ;-)

And process. Creative process. They are trying to figure out how best to carve up their day a bit so they can nurture that story spark. You know, create a writing life, in which actual writing gets down. How do you nurture the spark inside you when the world blowin' up all 'round yo' head?

Well now, you write.

I used to hate it when the veterans I spoke with would say this. They'd throw out some do's and don'ts but most of it amounted to the same command, "Read," and that other ominous one, "Write." Then I would turn away, all downtrodden and dejected, with another ton of books to add to my list, and even more unanswered questions.

What I was waiting for was the Key. Somehow, I thought, if I could just get my hands on that Key, I could jettison myself from novice writer with two credits to her misspelled name, to the latest and greatest Anointed One. I wasn't much like my mainstream comrades. I didn't dream of Oprah or the New Yorker. I dreamed of Callaloo. Rather than flatout subscribing, I'd pieced together a collection of volumes from library sales and independent online booksellers around the nation, and every lone volume was like discovering a nugget of gold in a grand river of words. You couldn't go wrong with an issue, any Callaloo issue, and I wanted to someday have my work published there, right there, folks.

Well, it took me some time before I even had the courage to submit, and when I did have that honor, when it did come, I can honestly say, I would not have had it any other way. I didn't find the Key, but I found something else, something more valuable.

I know some folk still think somebody is going to give them the Big Secret Key to Publishing, like published authors carry it around in their back pockets as they float through life. As if they can simply raise a well manicured hand and place you promptly in the Pantheon.

When they come smiling at me with that subconscious Key mess, I have to tell them, kindly as possibly, that there ain't no Key.

Just sit your butt down and write.

Or wash some dishes. Then write.

Twist your locks, oil your scalp, and write.

Raise a child, make a friend, change a career, write.

And when you finish, read a book, read another book, live your life, and write.

Then read this and this, re-read this and ask yourself that, consider how... then write some more.

Folk roll up in workshops like they comin' in out the rain. I know, 'cuz I did. They been in the desert so long, they thirsty, wondering in the wilderness, waiting on somebody to deliver them to the Promised Land of Publication, preferably with an awesome agent and a hefty advance. Good folk can and may help you along the way, but at the end of the day, can't nobody write for you but you. (Okay, we are not going to talk about ghostwriting here.)

Workshops are designed to temporarily get you out of the wilderness for a while, to pull you out of that lonely, vaccuum that is your own critical (or in some cases, not critical enough) self, and offer you a whole new set of eyes and ears, to experience your work. You write and read and share, exchange resources, experiment with techniques, and hopefully gain new insights and inspiration from each other that will help you get closer to crafting the work you most want to see in the world.

You may not agree with everything said, you may not be able to try your hand at every new strategy offered, but you take what works well for you. You take what you need. And when you don't need the workshop no more, then you sit yourself down somewhere and write.

Howard Waldrop told us at Clarion West '99 that "writing is hard."

He ain't never lied, but I think when it is hardest, that is when you have to hang in there and focus as Arthur says, "step by step, inch by inch," celebrating every hard won paragraph, even if that's all you got.

Staying in the game and knowing what you've got, that's the real key.

uplift, engage, and enlighten

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Belladona's ELDER SERIES @ Dixon Place

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Belladonna* Celebrates

the Elders

with readings and events guest-hosted by some of our favorite writers who've invited writers who influence and inspire them

Tuesday, APRIL 14

Kate Eichhorn


Gail Scott &

M. NourbeSe Philip

(doors at 7PM)
@ Dixon Place
(161 Chrystie Street)
Admission is $6 at the Door.

Kate Eichhorn is the author of Fond (BookThug, 2008) and the co-editor of Innovative Canadian Women's Poetry and Poetics (Coach House Books, 2009) and a forthcoming issue of Open Letter on feminist poetics. As a curator, she has worked with reading series and literary festivals to stage multidisciplinary collaborations between poets, visual artists and composers. She is an assistant professor of Culture and Media Studies at The New School.

Gail Scott is current recipient of the Quebec Arts Council New York Studio grant. She is the suthor of 7 books, including the anthology Biting The Error edited with Bob Gluck et al, Coach House, 2004, shortlisted for a Lambda award. Her other books include her novel, My Paris, about a sad diarist in conversation with Gertrude Stein and Walter Benjamin in contemporary Paris, Dalkey Archive [Normal, Ill] September, 2003; the story collection Spare Parts Plus Two [Coach House, 2002]. The novels Main Brides and Heroine, and the essay collections Spaces Like Stairs and la théorie, un dimanche [with Nicole Brossard et al]. She has just finished a new novel, The Obituary, forthcoming. Her translation of Michael Delisle's Le Déasarroi du matelot was shortlisted for the Governor General's award in translation [2001]. She has been named one of the 10 best one of the 10 best Canadian novellists of the year 1999 by the trade magazine Quill + Quire. She is co-founder of the critical journal Spirale (Montréal) and Tessera (new writing by women). She teaches Creative Writing at Université de Montréal.
M. NourbeSe Philip is a poet, writer, and lawyer. She was born in Tobago and now lives in Toronto. She received her B.S. from the University of the West Indies and her M.S. and law degree from the University of Western Ontario. In l983 she gave up the practice of law to devote more time to writing. Although primarily a poet, Nourbese Philip also writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has published three books of poetry, Thorns, Salmon Courage, and She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks. She has been the recipient of Canada Council awards, numerous Ontario Arts Council grants and was the recipient of a Toronto Arts Council award in l989. Philip's first novel, Harriet's Daughter, was published in l988. Her second novel, Looking For Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, was published in l991. In 1990, Philip was made a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry and in 1991 became a McDowell Fellow. M. Nourbese Philip's short stories, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in magazines and journals in North America and England, and her poetry has been extensively anthologized. Her work is taught widely at the university level and is the subject of much academic writing and critique. Two collections of Philip's essays, Frontiers: Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture and Showing Grit: Showboating North of the 44th Parallel, were published in November l992 and June l993, followed by a third essay collection, Genealogy of Resistance and Other Essays in 1997. Philip's first play, Coups and Calypsos, was produced in both London and Toronto during 1999.
A Short Note About The Elders Series:
Belladonna* began as a reading and salon series at Bluestocking's Women's Bookstore on New York City's Lower East Side, in August 1999. In June 2000, in collaboration with Boog Literature, Belladonna* began to publish commemorative 'chaplets' of the readers work. This year marks the tenth anniversary of our mission to: promote the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, and dangerous with language. Belladonna* has by now featured over 150 writers of wildly diverse age and origin, writers who work in conversation and collaboration in and between multiple forms, languages, critical fields. As performance and as printed text the work collects, gathers over time and space, and forms a kind of conversation about the feminist avant-garde, what it is and how it comes to be. Our anniversary Elders Series is a continuation of this conversation, which highlights the fact of influence and continuity of the ideas, poetics, and concerns we circle through. And it is a way to honor those without whom we'd be nowhere.
April 28
Cara Benson hosts
Jayne Cortez and Anne Waldman
June 9
Jane Sprague hosts
Tina Darragh and Diane Ward
*a reading series and small press that promotes the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multicultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, dangerous with language.
*deadly nightshade, a cardiac and respiratory stimulant, having purplish-red flowers and black berries

Belladonna* readings happen monthly between September and June.
We are grateful for funding by Poets and Writers, CLMP, NYSCA, and Dixon Place.