Why are poets the best essayists? According to Priscilla Long, author of “The Writer’s Portable Mentor,” it is because poets understand the sound of words.
At today’s EPIC Monday morning writing group, Long recommended collecting words, such as these which sparked her recently: “kitchen matches;” and the word “trundle,” as elephants trundle through the forest. Writers should also “learn the editing moves,” said Long, encouraging study of Strunk and White.
But her biggest recommendations were to write 15 minutes a day and to work on short pieces at the same time as long works. “You start finding an audience,” with your short pieces, she said, and you must have a “deep self-acceptance” that allows you to do the rough, discovery writing. Then comes the craft work. Like Picasso, you will create more duds than masterpieces.
Using a prop, Long unfurled her lengthy list of works, many “published” or “circulating,” and some orphans left blank. She unveiled a challenge to today’s class: “I bet I have more rejections than you do.” As guest Vlad said about Long’s theory to collect rejections: “Fail often to succeed sooner.” Long also advised writers to start sending out work once they have five pieces of suitable quality and - at the same time - join Open Mic nights to practice speaking. Poetry must be spoken.
And we can’t forget form. Long’s work, “ in The American Scholar, takes us back in 23 stages to the beginning of man, the life of Dolly the cloned sheep, and to the hanging of Long’s horse-stealing relative. It’s that breadth of a single idea (the genome) that should encourage every writer to leap and leap some more.
As Long wrote today in my copy of her “Mentor” book: “May the muses smile on you.” Thank you, Priscilla, for being our muse today and every week. –Janette
EPIC Writing Exercise Monday, October 22,
“No emptiness anywhere here.”
Reminds me of a great quote of abundance, “I’m drinking from my
saucer because my cup is overflowing.” The trick is to have the cup out
available uncovered so that it might be filled! Filled—filled with what? Abundance comes
in many forms. If we are ill we desire good health. If we are unemployed we
celebrate that coveted job. If we are tired of working and have saved we find
relief in letting go of the 9-5 and create a new reality. Abundance—a page
filled with writing—abundance—with something worth saying. Mother Nature’s
abundance leaves no nook or cranny unfilled. Even the bare branches of the
deciduous trees in winter already hold the dormant new buds and leaves of
spring. Which brings me to all the Abundance that surrounds us unseen. Would I
take time just “to be.” To be mindful:
Who did I pass on the way in here today? A dad taking time to
help his two-year- old daughter slide her books into the book return library
slot. What pleasantries were exchanged with a fellow writer as we entered our
room together? The exchange of smiles—welcome—of belonging—truly, the feeling
that there was no emptiness anywhere here.
To have a place at the table—to be welcomed—to be part of the
community—“to be.” To hear—to share—to grow—to be accepted as we are—to embrace
ourselves as we are, as we each declare, “Hello, I’m me. I’m a writer and my
goal…”and feel the Abundant support, acceptance, growth in just being—just
showing up—truly, there was no emptiness anywhere here.
EPIC Writing Group member Judith Works contributed this piece.
VIA ETRUSCA, by Judith Works
I have a friend who lives in a small town an hour north of Rome. Her home is on
Via Etrusca, a perfect name for visualizing the area’s continuing Etruscan
influence even though the Romans had finished them off by the Third Century BC.
The town, set high on a cliff, has no tourist attractions but is kept alive by
commuters and city dwellers who have restored their former family home for
weekend use. The ancient row houses are thought to be between four to six
centuries old, the year the buildings were actually erected long forgotten. To
ensure that the structures stay in place for at least another half-millennium,
the buildings are supported by arches vaulting over the narrow stone-paved
Late in the evening when there are only glowing embers in the
fireplace flickering on the ancient oak beams and the art work resting in
niches, and the red wine bottle is emptied to the dregs, the silence is as
complete as it must have been when my friend's home was new.
A few lights shine over empty streets, through the arches and the closed shutters of
my bedroom. I sleep, dreamless. But early in the morning I awake to the sound of
Vespa engines. It's time for workers to get going and for me to open the
shutters and let in the day. Instead I drowsily think about all the people who
might have lived in this home in times past.
Later, my friend and I walk a few blocks to the small shopping street. If we get going too early the
bar owner is still firing up his espresso maker for those dashing to the train
station in the valley far below the centro storico perched on
its rock. The giornalaio is putting up his rack with the day’s papers
blaring out the latest political scandal, while fruit and flower vendors are
pulling up their metal shutters and moving their wares outside in the clear
light. Life begins anew for commuters hurrying to their jobs in Rome and for us
to plan another day of sightseeing in nearby towns like tiny one-street Sovana,
Bomarzo with its strange monster sculptures, or Viterbo's papal palace.
Like all small towns in Italy life goes on for the remaining residents. I
can peek through open windows and doors to see remodeled kitchens, new
televisions and other indications of renewal. By mid-morning a delectable smell
of pasta sauce comes from kitchen windows and from unpretentious shops where
fresh lasagna is prepared for those who don’t have time or inclination to cook.
Shoppers are eyeing flowers, vegetables and fruit carefully arranged in the
minuscule shops sandwiched between offices of the various political parties or
those of the pompe funebri, undertakers. Artisans are busy making
picture frames, mending shoes or painting ceramics. Butcher shops and
tintorias, dry cleaners, bustle with business. Women buy knitting
supplies in the merceria where thread, hosiery and shoulder pads for
the home seamstress are displayed behind the counter.
But despite the liveliness, the unstoppable passage of time is always evident. Large death
notices are pasted on walls between fading and tattered posters for the small
circuses that had come to town in past years. When summer is over old men,
wearing heavy sweaters under their jackets along with scarves and caps, will
follow the sun as it passes around the piazza. They are living sundials as they
move like dozing cats, smoking and discussing how the hometown soccer team is
But I still have many places to go before I, too, want to doze
in the sun.