The Writing Life
“Marsh Song I”
“Marsh Song I*” Mixed media, Clare L. Martin ©2016
We drive westward along the Louisiana coast on a crumbling highway with my parents. The sky purples with becoming light. Our bellies are full of boudin and cracklins. Hot coffee is handed carefully from the front seat to my husband and I seated in the back.
We sing “J’ai Passe Devant Ta Porte” or “Bon Vieux Mari,” called by my mother and responded to by my father. Always my father embellishes his responses. My mother rolls down her window and points to the Roseate Spoonbills lifting from their roosts. My father stops singing and praises God.
A prayer is said for loved ones, wherever they are. More of the morning sky erupts over the marsh. I think of painters, how I wish to be one, how I have tried with my words. This day we are traveling to see Sandhill Cranes that have been spotted in Creole, a few miles from here. We always take the scenic route and happily travel from dawn to dusk.
How many times have we come to this slipping away land and been blessed by our forgetfulness of the world’s problems and our own? Countless. How much do I miss these two people who gave and saved my life? My longing cannot be measured.
To treasure the dead is our inheritance.
*I dedicate this artwork and these words to my beloved family, especially to my deceased loved ones, wherever they are.
Clare L. Martin
“Embryonic Self*,” mixed media, by Clare L. Martin
A tree held in its branches
a womb that carried me.
My strong heart
beat brilliant red
through fluid translucence.
A thick cord
connected me to roots
of the tree
into the blood
of the earth.
Who knew I would experience
such sorrow, such joy
once born into the world?
*Dedicated to Bessie Senette.
Clare L. Martin ©2016
Poem after Angel Bath series by Dennis Paul Williams
after a mixed media art piece in the Angel Bath series by Dennis Paul Williams
The fetal heart stops
in a globe of light
their way through flesh
her cheek depressed
a doctor’s thumbprint
gray washes into amber
soft, blooded veins—
her mother bears
the crown of thorns.
Desiccation we know
because the artist
layers each dream
upon the other
the artist dreams
these dreams for us
to show us
when waters rise
when rains fall.
When mothers suffer
up to their necks
reach for the ceiling
pray for lightning bolt holes
through the roof: a delivery
of a different kind
the ever-ghost children
quickly go to ground—
still-hearted and all.
©2016 Clare L. Martin
Prompts for Poets and Writers
Here is the workshop outline I offered yesterday to our local group of Renegade Writers. We meet every other Saturday to write new. We share the responsibility of leading the workshops on a voluntary basis. There is no requirement of attendance. We have an online presence on Facebook where we share ideas germane to writing and creative thought. Renegade Writers
July 23, 2016
Clare L. Martin
Listen to Ambient music (try Pandora’s Ambient station) without words. Let your eye zigzag around these words or your own wordlist of random words. Write down the words that resonate with you.
sin receive fabric cold heavy slice tender banal gift span taint dismal fountain bashful blend breath blue groan six fever bloom panic hallow veil frost become trill boast float grease tin capsule din air host seek whisper cannon lyrical walls toll patient aid oil hold pallor desperate temperament fecund virtual tantalize crease grind aspirate glean diamond dissonance heavens wicked stars oceans gallop crust obsidian curve rock mist colored tall river hope wood animal bell hunted believe final aspire delicious scare canopy stairs burst kind liar shunt plastic cantor carrion shine ghost saint skin terrible flash grave fire rust fear rose brunt dire burden gloss perpetrate scandal viscerate denial vibe eat ball
Framework– Here are suggested prompts for you to get your writing started. You can go in your own direction, of course.
Write the spell to undo a curse.
Write words of forgiveness to a person who wronged you.
Write the earliest memory of a childhood fear.
Write a dreamed nightmare.
Write details of a normal morning or evening, only imagined as extraordinary and not dull in any way.
Think of a gift you’ve received—It could be intangible; a propensity toward something, a talent, a sensibility. Would you give it away? Why or why not?
Choose an animal. Think of its form, its musculature, its skeleton, its hide, its eyes. Think of its habitat and its habits. Think of its place in mythology and literature. How can you incorporate this animal into a working piece of prose or poetry so that it becomes a metaphor?
Music and language are so intertwined. When we listened to music, did you have images in your mind? Visual images that popped in the visionary sight of your mind? Did you write them down? Try to remember things that you might have missed writing down. List them or check your notes and keep writing.
What are your writing habits? How can you improve them by adapting others’ ideas as your own?
“You need to write another damn book!”
I am thrilled to announce that Yellow Flag Press will publish Seek the Holy Dark as the 2017 selection of The Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry. Great thanks to J. Bruce Fuller for this honor. Yellow Flag Press is a Louisiana-born publishing house that is growing its national presence. I have had a long relationship with it, and I can’t think of any other affiliation that would make me as happy.
A little backstory:
For a long period of time since my mother’s death in May of 2014, I felt aimless. I was writing, but I did not have a meaningful writing project in front of me to keep me focused on the bigger picture of my Writing Life. I had material for a new manuscript, tentatively titled “Broken Jesus,” that I began to assemble after Eating the Heart First was published. Over the course of a couple of years, I abandoned hope for it and just kept writing new.
Several months ago, while having coffee with The Bayou Mystic, Bessie Senette, I expressed my feelings of a lack of purpose beyond my personal responsibilities and our writing group’s objectives. She knew that I had relinquished my roles in many of the projects I had been involved with before my mother’s death. She also knew that was very hard for me, because of my giving and ambitious nature. The deep dissatisfaction I had been living with was causing depression beyond normal grief.
Bessie listened as I shared my feelings. After a silence, Bessie stood, pointed her finger between my eyes, and said, “You need to write another damn book!” As soon as she said it, I was taken aback. I went home with a charge of energy to do exactly what she said to do. I got to work with real determination.
In December 2015, in a casual conversation, I brought up the work I was doing to J. Bruce Fuller at a writing event we were attending in Arnaudville, LA. He offered to read the manuscript. When I sent it, I had a sense that if I had to face a “no” I would reluctantly consider other options. Honestly, from that moment in Arnaudville when the opportunity opened, I desired for Seek the Holy Dark to be a YFP book. I have always had great faith in J Bruce’s integrity and the good health of his press.
[Surprisingly, in less than three days of receiving the publishing news, the cover art was selected and rights acquired. That is another story that involves my dear Bessie!!]
I am thrilled, ready, excited, and focused to bring this new work to the world. I again express thanks to J Bruce Fuller and Yellow Flag Press for this amazing opportunity.
And great thanks to Bessie for seeing my need and calling forth my energy to fulfill it.
Swimming as Prayer
Sometimes when I enter the pool, even when I am swimming, I think “this doesn’t seem real.” I don’t sense that I am present in my body at that moment. But then, body memory takes over and my mind follows. These are the best times, when my mind senses and recognizes that I am in the moment, in the pool, synced with my body so that all of me is coalesced in the present. Then, each breath, each moment is aligned with thought, and form becomes essential. My thought turns to prayer, or a mantra, and my body’s movement is prayer as well. I am a ‘living prayer,’ and not unlike a dance, my focused attention is on form, flow, freedom.
Renegade Writers 10/03/2015
I am part of a group of trusted writers and newcomers who meet every other Saturday at various locations to write together. This past Saturday, I led the exercises. We take turns leading, so the responsibility of running the group is shared. I am posting here my writing exercises. I only ask that if you use them in a class, that you credit me. Please feel free to use them to spark your own writing. It would be interesting to see examples of your work generated by these prompts in the comments below.
- LANDThe land has stories. Consider our natural environment, or a particular place that you have ties to, and tell its story. Start by listing the ideas you have associated with this land, and any memories. Use the items on your list as a source of inspiration and write a poem examining why this occupies your mind. As you write, continue to hunt for clarity and more to say. Does the land change you? Do you feel a particular way when you think of it or visit it? Does this place still exist? Is it threatened? Do you feel calm or fear when thinking of it or visiting it?
Weave your impressions and ideas into a poem or short piece of fiction.
- Thirteen ways of looking at a _____________________________
After reading the poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” pick an object and write several stanzas numbered 1-13. Strive not to be literal but to see beyond the thing. Write the most imaginative narrative about the object you chose that you can conjure.
- Word Prompts
Circle 3 or more words that resonate with you from each group. Write sentences with each of those words. Push for clarity and interrogate the sentences to determine a narrative thread. Spend time shaping this into a poem of short piece of fiction.
We will repeat the process with another round using different words, or your own list.
©2015 Clare L. Martin
Watching the Wheels
I forgot who I was. I knew the age spot on my left cheek. I knew the sagging breasts and the overlapping belly. I knew my feet; my unusually small toes. I knew my eyes and what they had seen. I knew my lips, now shaded in regal purple. I knew my place in the bed next to the dog, and further away, my husband. I knew him; his wants and needs. I knew the losses: friendships, a friend forever, my father, son and now, almost seven months ago, my mother. I knew something of my values, but not as clearly: my own value. I had forgotten the tools of my fingers; except to inconsistently pleasure myself, wash my face, shave the stubble here and there, or grip a steering wheel. I knew my daughter; but already this knowing is an ocean away. I knew the reason I withdrew from an outside life that filled others more than myself. I knew the shame of saying one thing and doing another. But I had forgotten myself.
I know that in the past six months I put words on paper. I know that as soon as those words were written I forgot them. I forgot the thrill too, and felt only dislocation. I forgot the feel of words in my mouth, as though my tongue had been numbed for surgery. I forgot the clicking taps on a keyboard except for inane mumblings; wretched gloats and ambiguous streams of babble. But back to dislocation: my writing setting has been unsettled. There are two sofas in this room. One does not belong here. Things are unplugged that should be plugged in. There are china cups wrapped in newspaper in boxes that haven’t been unpacked. One curtain hangs and another needs to be hung up. Where is my grounding? Files and files and no skeleton for them. Unopened mail. Books unread. I became dislocated in the aftermath of death. I do remember the tenderest parts of me and the kisses they received.
Before I progress, I need to familiarize myself with myself. Yesterday, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to drive on a road I’d never traveled and tell no one if I was going north, south, east or west. Instead I went to a bakery and bought my favorite dessert. My husband ate half and my daughter the other. The yearning I have is to be left alone. JUST LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE. That has been my mantra, but I do want to engage. Those closest to me understand. I have enough time. I just need awareness of the ever-presence of the opportunity of solitude and the will to delineate myself into its holy grasp.
Drained. I have been drained. Lately, I have related an adage that came to me: “If your own kitchen is on fire and your neighbor’s house is burning, put out the fire in your kitchen and then bring water to your neighbor.” This is how I must live my life, for now, until the fire is put out, until the long task list is accomplished. I do not feel guilt for saying no. I do not feel remorse for expressing wrath when only wrath, justified, would accomplish the necessary. I had forgotten wrath. Wrath can be useful. I accept my own blamelessness.
God help those who elicit my wrath. It is life-stopping in a metaphorical way; and profoundly affecting. Good, good, good. Now you know. Now you will pay attention and show me respect. Wrath: a wolf in defense and defiance for survival. It is necessary for the continuation of my living with no ill intent at all.
I talked to a friend today. It was nice. She offered refuge and calm water. I cannot do for others outside my closest family and my core friendships. Loss. We have lost so much and I am in transition. Part of what I forgot or tried to unburden myself from was writing; what it had come to mean for me. But what it meant, or what it was starting to represent for me was obligation and burden. Yes, there is a burden to carry as a writer and almost always I carry that with joy, but the elements of operating in a society of writers was what I felt trapped by. I came to a conclusion to only write when I feel like it and to not submit my work to journals anymore unless I am solicited to do so. It is not because I feel I have reached a level of status that it is beneath me; it’s just that I am not hungry. I do not have the time to write, submit, write, submit, etc. I think of the John Lennon song’s “Watching the Wheels” because it expresses how I feel about my career as a writer.
What is it about writing that brings me joy? I am no longer playing the game. I am vitally more interested in growing my family, as we have lost so many of our blood and kin. If I can solidify my core family, blood or not, I will find that inner resolve to write something worthy and authentic. I will write words with blood-worth, with the meaning and impact that has always been my fiercest intention.
I use the following as a handout for discussion in creative writing workshops I present. It is great for youths and adults. It’s a compilation of motivational advice I have given and have received over the years. It’s a simple direct way to keep yourself on task when embarking on the path of The Writing Life. More can be said, and I encourage others to use and amend this list.
Writers write. Writers read.
Fall in love with a dictionary.
Vision—it takes courage to see.
Face the blank page or screen.
Don’t wait for inspiration.
Practice and play. Make mistakes.
Observe. Pay attention to life.
Experiment with language.
Write to express, but even more write to see and make others see.
See, hear, taste, touch, discover and know.
Bring the reader into the world of your poem with concrete images.
Dream journal –peer into other worlds, seek out unconscious connections.
Write your responses and impressions of poems you like.
Free write to music. Free write to static.
Write “in your head” then write it down.
Fight for freedom on the page.
Keep a journal.
Cultivate the desire to write.
Get out of bed to write if an idea strikes you.
Write what you need to write.
Say what you need to say.
Listen for your voice. Befriend it and trust it.
Uncover the processes of your psyche.
Aim for tension in the words.
Write from the depths of your experience—the writing itself will deepen experience.
Free write and then control the words with form.
Strive for a precision of language.
Nurture your discipline.
Do not punish yourself.
Give it time.
FIGHT FOR EVERY WORD.
© 2014 Clare L. Martin