Being a writer and editor means spending a lot of time in front of a computer. When there’s an opportunity to take these skills out into the community, far away from the familiarity of one’s own desk, it’s important to take it.
I’ve been lucky to have had three such opportunities this fall, all very different.
The first opportunity was getting invited to speak and coach in a high school creative writing class in St. Paul, Minnesota. The students varied wildly in skill level and were working on projects across the creative writing spectrum: poetry, fiction, nonfiction. Part of my contribution was to talk to them about my own creative process. How did I get my work done? Where did I start? This forced me to re-evaluate what I was doing on a daily basis. Talking to teens about the writing process never fails to expose any ruts I’ve fallen into. Teens are apt at poking holes in anything they’re told, so someone like me who presents my own method and work receives unfiltered, unflinching feedback. This is not for the faint of heart, but it forced me to be very, very clear about what works and what does not work in the daily life of a writer. Bonus: the students all said thank you at the end. How often in your daily writing life do you get thanked? Another bonus: reading snippets of work the students wrote, getting a glimpse of what young writers think about (fantastic beasts, dreamy places, haunted treehouses, life after high school graduation).
The second opportunity was an invitation to read at a private party. I have musician friends who planned a performance of their new trio, and they wanted to offer a little something during a break in the music. Here was a way for me to read new work in a comfortable, intimate setting among friends and acquaintances who would never be unkind. I would still be able to tell (mostly) from facial expressions whether what I read hit the mark. How nice to share a stage with friends who were also doing new work. How nice for all of us to feel supported. And there was wine. This sure beat reading in a coffeehouse to six people you’ve never seen before in your life while assorted coffee drink-making noises burble and sputter in the background.
The third opportunity was attending the 2019 Twin Cities Book Festival at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Large writers’ conferences are exhausting and expensive, but a one-day book festival is just the thing. There I talked to several local publishers about what they published and how many submissions they looked at annually. I bought books directly from the publishers and authors were there to sign copies and chat. And I indulged my love of creative nonfiction by attending an author panel with Christopher Ingraham (If You Lived Here You’d be Home by Now) and Kent Nerburn (Dancing With the Gods: Reflections on Life and Art). Listening to other writers read their work is one of my favorite ways to feel more inspired.
It’s been a wonderful fall with all this writerly activity that did not involve sitting at my desk. I’ve been reminded just how important it is to get out there and feel part of a larger community, sharing skills, swapping stories, reading aloud, and learning from others. Without that piece, the writer’s life would be dull indeed.
In the spirit of community, tell us how you connect with other writers, editors, readers, and publishers. What makes you shut down your computer and venture out? Let us know on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/gyroscopereview/) or Twitter (@gyroscopereview). We’d love to have a conversation.
IN OTHER NEWS….
We welcome our new Assistant Editor, Elya Braden. Elya is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist whose work has appeared in past issues of Gyroscope Review. We are delighted to add her to our masthead, and excited to share the benefit of her experience and expertise in continuing to make Gyroscope Review an excellent place for contemporary poetry. Pop over to our masthead page to learn more about Elya.
ONE MORE THING:
Instead of telling you of my trials and tribulations pertaining to the writing of multiple poems per week, I thought instead I’d discuss some of my influences – a poet whose work I admire, a poet I read for inspiration, a poet who piss me off because I will never, ever be able to turn a phrase as elegantly as he does.
Some poets I admire because of the way they open a poem, the way, in just a few deft phrases, they suck you right in and next thing you know, you are hip deep in the poem and wading for home. This is Robert Penn Warren for me.
Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905 – September 15, 1989) was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic and was one of the founders of New Criticism. He was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935. He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel for his novel All the King’s Men (1946) and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. He is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry.
One of my favorite poems of Warren’s is “Trying to Tell You Something”. The poem discusses spirituality through the guise of an old oak tree trying to survive another winter.
All things lean at you, and some are
Trying to tell you something, though of some
The heart is too full for speech.
“All things lean at you” This opening line intrigues me immediately, and I take it at its word. “and some are Trying to tell you something,” adds to the sense of mystery. Now it has my attention. I am enveloped by the idea of this nebulous something that wants so desperately to put me on the path to Enlightenment, but just can’t, because “though of some The heart is too full for speech.”
The first three lines set the stage as the poem describes this massive tree, ‘ringed with iron’, rods and cables run through its core to keep it alive and upright through another season. The oak wants to tell us something, it has wisdom to impart, if we just know how to understand what it is saying. The description of the tree, a freezing winter night when “It is ten below zero, and the iron Of hoops and reinforcement rods is continuing to contract” and the “stars crackle” place you on that cold and lonely hilltop.
Those poem has stuck with me for years, partially because of the opening lines, mostly because of the imagery and the feelings the poem evokes, and lastly, the end of the poem, because as often the case, with great opening lines, come great closing lines. Each image builds on the one previous, until the end seems almost inevitable.
Trying to Tell You Something
Robert Penn Warren
All things lean at you, and some are
Trying to tell you something, though of some
The heart is too full for speech. On a hill, the oak,
Immense, older than Jamestown or God, splitting
With its own weight at the great inverted
Crotch, air-spread and ice-hung, ringed with iron
Like barrel-hoops, only heavier, massive rods
Running through and bolted, and higher, the cables,
Which in summer are hidden by green leaves—the oak,
It is trying to tell you something. It wants,
In its fullness of years, to describe to you
What happens on a December night when
It stands alone in a world of whiteness. The moon is full.
You can hear the stars crackle in their high brightness.
It is ten below zero, and the iron
Of hoops and reinforcement rods is continuing to contract.
There is the rhythm of a slow throb, like pain. The wind,
Northwest, is steady, and in the wind, the cables,
In a thin-honed and disinfectant purity, like
A dentist’s drill, sing. They sing
Of truth, and its beauty. The oak
Wants to declare this to you, so that you
Will not be unprepared when, some December night,
You stand on a hill, in a world of whiteness, and
Stare into the crackling absoluteness of the sky. The oak
Wants to tell you because, at that moment,
In your own head, the cables will sing
With a thin-honed and disinfectant purity,
And no one can predict the consequences
Previously published by Constance Brewer on Life on the Periphery
We are extremely pleased with the new issue of Gyroscope Review that we offer you today. The Crone Power Issue contains 50 poems by 50 women poets over the age of 50. Their voices and their poems offer a broad range of what a mature woman in today’s world looks like. How she defines herself. How she celebrates herself. How she wields her power. How she opens her heart.
We are delighted to create this space for a group of poets who are often underrepresented in publications. These women are not about to become invisible as they mature; rather, they are bursting with stories, wisdom, ideas, and love. Read them. Share their work. Start a conversation about what a privilege it is to live long enough to call oneself a crone.
Print copies are available for $8 on Amazon HERE.
Kindle versions are available for $2 on Amazon HERE.
Our free PDF version is available HERE.
The gift of good literature that someone else has already edited: that’s what I gave myself as the Gyroscope Review reading period for the Crone Power Issue drew to a close. I needed to read for pleasure now, relax a bit before I dove into formatting the fall issue. Since Margaret Atwood was everywhere these past few weeks in anticipation of her latest work of fiction (The Testaments), I abandoned poetry for a moment to read The Handmaid’s Tale and clear my head.
Perhaps this is not how most people clear their heads, with a work of dystopian fiction that feels altogether too possible in the age of Trump. I finished reading it on 9-11 right after I watched New Yorkers remember the fall of the World Trade Center towers on CBS This Morning.
What I was really doing was moving from weeks of reading the words of older women poets to gulping down the words of just one formidable woman writer. Atwood’s book, written in the mid-Eighties, still feels like a warning, like a call to pay attention and speak up before that option is ripped away.
With that realization fresh on my mind, I thought about how it is that women get their words out there at all, how our experiences vary from insanely lucky to horribly disadvantaged. How women sometimes suppress or oppress one another. How women might lift each other up.
It’s that last thing that I really hope for, of course; that last thing is the driving force behind having a Crone Power Issue of Gyroscope Review. Older women, in particular, have so much to offer whether through the art they (we) make, the support offered, or the wisdom shared. With all the divisiveness going on in the world, there is ample opportunity to heal divides and wield our words with certainty, clarity, and power.
Since our Crone Power Issue won’t be out until October 1, I thought I’d share a small and completely subjective list of work by women poets that has gotten my attention this year. Some of this work is old, some is new, all of it contains skill with words and images that will surgically alter your heart. You’ll recognize some names here, and others will likely be new to you. And I hope our upcoming Crone Power Issue will find a place on bookshelves beside these also-wise women.
Happy reading. And may this list nudge you to seek out more women’s voices.
Margaret Atwood, Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New 1976-1986. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.
Francesca Bell, Bright Stain. Pasadena: Red Hen Press, 2019.
Alexis Rhone Fancher, The Dead Kid Poems. Bellingham: KYSO Flash Press, 2019.
Kari Gunter-Seymour, Serving. Parma, OH: Crisis Chronicles Press, 2018.
Kristin Laurel, Questions About the Ride. Charlotte: Main Street Rag, 2019.
Mary Oliver, Red Bird. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.
Emily Skaja, Brute. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2019.
Elizabeth S. Wolf, Did You Know? Studio City: Rattle Foundation Press, 2019.