Sound, Silence, Listening
In this week's Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, we focused on listening and sound -- dissecting that sense throughout our 90 minutes together. We started by reading "The Sound of One Fork" by Minnie Bruce Pratt.
The Sound of One Fork
BY MINNIE BRUCE PRATT
Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honeybee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.
While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.
Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.
And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday, afternoons
on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night
will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.
My family, my children live in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper,
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.
In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Still, we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turn yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank,
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.
Read the poem once. What do you hear?
Read again. What else do you hear? What else do you notice?
What else does this poem say to you?
John Cage talked about the other half of sound being silence.
I’d like us to take some time now to listen and let silence speak to us,
so that we can be ready to really notice sounds in our next step.
For the next few minutes, please don’t write, read or talk,
and try to keep your movement/sounds still.
Set a timer for yourself for 5, 10, 15 minutes.
From this quiet place, listen to your breath. Listen to your organs.
Listen to the other listeners. The room. To what’s outside the room.
If you can, close your eyes. Otherwise, let your focus be soft.
After your timer goes off,
you can take a moment to jot down what you heard.
Next, we’ll be going outside. Bring a sheet of paper with you or a sketchbook.
Grab some colored pencils or markers too.
We’re going to make sound maps in the area around our residence.
This can look like many different things, but mainly the process is:
Go to an area outside. Wait there, listen.
Draw or briefly describe what you hear
in a spot on the page that symbolizes where you are.
Then go to another area.
Repeat until you’ve captured the sounds all around your building
(or inside your building if you prefer not to go outside).
Instead of a map of what you see, this is a map of what you hear.
Take about 15 or 20 minutes to do this. Take your time, go slow.
Back inside, we can incorporate the sounds into a new piece.
You can do this in several different ways.
Maybe you travel through the sounds as a journey, describing them.
Maybe you write a story that incorporates all the sounds.
Maybe a poem tried to define all the sounds.
Maybe a scene blows the sounds up into giant noises a character has to overcome.
Maybe you're a composer and create a new tune or song from the sounds.
Maybe something completely different.
Any way you’d like to incorporate the sounds writing something new is good.
You can use "The Sound of One Fork" as a model or push in the opposite direction. Use your life. Use your interests. Use what you hear around you.
During the workshop, I played additional music
(tracks from Gnarly Buttons by composer John Adams).
You can play music (preferably instrumental) and incorporate those sounds too.
Write for at least 20 minutes. Share your work with someone.
After we wrote for about 25, 30 minutes,
we created short poems out of our longer texts
and everyone had a chance to share --
some hauntingly beautiful stuff came out of that session!
Thank you for writing and listening with me. Enjoy your spring!
Dark alleyway, piss smell.
Shadow places for hiding. For trapping.
A hole. No space to breathe.
I sneak on people and don't mean to.
Blamed for my quiet feet. "You scared me."
I don't blame them for not being present,
Not noticing their surroundings.
Something behind me.
I turn and there's nothing.
Except on my back, on my neck.
Like a grizzly bear's hot breath.
I taste metal. Nails.
I was going somewhere important
but now I forget who I am.
Now that someone's following,
I want to give up, turn around.
See who it--
inside the nothing, an orchestra
hear your heart beat, organs pump
insides tire for your rise and falling
do you ever thank them?
thank you, stomach
thank you, liver
not everyone has them
gratitude for intestines comes
when the beeps bops bleeps
that terrain of blank canvas
the ant there takes his friend back home
his friend now food
blind ants - what do they hear?
the sky that robin's egg blue
a small strip of fog
a porch sit
the scrambled noise gone
instead is this sweater
this antique wood rocker
my hands chilled
study the horizon
find palms to warm them
take in mountain faces
pine green cardigans
roll eyes back
I belong in the mountains
like I belong in the sea
like I belong in a city high rise
like I'm learning to belong
in my skin
sometimes you love a person
with energy that takes you through
the rest of forever
Your Place Autobiography
In this week's Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, we wrote the story of our lives in using place, images and people.
We started by reading Jam Hale's poem "(people &) PLACES, an autobiography."
It's a long, winding poem with several vulnerable, heart striking moments.
I'll include the beginning here, but look HERE for the full version.
(people &) PLACES, an autobiography
by Jam Hale
Seattle, Washington and Yachats, Oregon
It's the ephemera that drew my attention
How a gin & tonic looks pale turquoise
In evening light--
A perfect marriage of
The concomitant blue bulb at the strike of a sulphur match and
The flash of green on the horizon
Silver City, Idaho or Bear Valley Springs, California
I can spend hours hand feeding a horse
Watching her strong jaw
As I massage her neck
Her lips inspect the palm of my hand
For more apple, celery, green beans
The sound of her giant teeth chomping baby carrots
Could put me to sleep
The breath from her nostrils
Is sibling to the comfort of a hotspring in winter
It wasn't until years later that I learned
Some suckling horses are called
Trail Creek, Idaho
It wasn't until years later that I could look at a hotspring
Without filling up on a sense of loss
I'm saving all my broccoli stalks and trimmings of asparagus
For the horses
I'm dirtying dishes just to have something to wash
A few dashes of tabasco
I'm not eating much these days
I will wash my glass
Between each drink
I'll wash my glass a dozen times a night
When my hands are soapy and wet
They are occupied with an empty glass
This is why I'll never quit smoking
This is why I'll wash down crumbs of tobacco
(stuck to my lips like burrs on horsehide)
With one more glass of whiskey.
What do you notice in this poem, so far?
What images, phrases, moments stand out?
What places stick with us most?
How does it make you feel, emotionally?
Close eyes. Breathe.
Cast back on the places you’ve lived.
The places you’ve spent time, that impacted you.
Maybe a small, short-term town you passed through.
Maybe a city you spent most your life.
Maybe a gas station that meant a lot to you.
Try to look back far.
Your whole life. See it all. See now. See close-up.
Each place that bubbles up.
What are the images that capture that place at that time?
Who are the people that shine through the most, that space and moment?
What were you feeling then? What do you feel as you look back at then?
Try to let all the meaningful places come forward. No rush.
When you feel that is done, make a list.
List all the places that came up, in any order.
And any that you’re just remembering now.
Some places may come up multiple times, for those of us who go back and forth.
Stay true to that. The back and forth, the returns, the repetitions.
Once you’ve listed all the places that impacted you through your life,
by each place, write or draw an image/symbol that signifies that place,
and the person who most impacted you, or with whom you spent the most time.
People can also be animals.
Also note any significant events.
Now, this list is your map. Use it, but you don’t have to follow it exactly.
You can change your mind, change the order, the places, images, people.
Using your map,
write your autobiography as seen through places, people and images.
This can be a poem, an essay, a story, a play, a long cartoon.
You can go back for inspiration from Jam’s poem
or cast it aside and do your own thing.
If you start to lose inspiration or clarity, take a walk.
Collect images from here/now.
Come back, continue.
Share what you wrote with someone.
How did that go? How did that feel?
Thank you for writing with me!
Have you ever considered going into prostitution to get the next buck?
What it would be like to sell your body?
Have you ever held a sign?
Thought about writing sharpie on cardboard?
Have you ever thought with envy at the dancing sign holders
outside cell phone stores and tax commissions--
at least they have work?
I think as I walk past the homeless,
how quick to cross over that line.
How I've been there.
Not as long or as hard, but I know that side.
Climbing out of that nothing,
first I shielded myself
I can't afford empathy for you right now.
I've been there but I'm not there right now.
I can't give you a thing.
The man I was with when I was like you
used to give away anything we earned.
So we didn't eat.
So the bankers
the angry voices
as he's making hand outs.
I won't look at you,
I'm getting further from that point.
Never forget how close.
How close STDs, pregnancy scares, cancer, health collapse, car wreck.
Don't forget everything's possible.
Don't live on guard.
know how little you make
how very little,
be willing to fight
to earn more.
Don't be dumb.
Avoid thinking about money.
Try to stop.
From 2015, I think?
I thought I forgot how to love him but it's all magnified.
The grey. Burnt embers. The moon makes us ashen.
Can we find water?
I don't remember singing.
It's always this way after a panic.
That heavy ache where my leg is supposed to be.
Stillness like funerals.
Here is the smallest moth, white stardust shimmering in rainlight.
Single soprano over violin and piano.
The spot of light in deepest chasm.
A letter passed between them in secret.
This is my chance.
Side by side this togetherness a community a village of song.
Before today, there was no thought of loss.
At least, no loss spoken.
What Fuels You?
Happy New Year! At Tuesday's Drop In Writing Workshop, we wrote poems, short stories and essays based on the word “fuel” that we could revise and submit to The Cabin's Writers in the Attic anthology.
Every year, Writers in the Attic is an opportunity for Idaho writers to get their work published, inspired by a theme word. This year, the word is "fuel". Learn more about Writers in the Attic (including submission guidelines) HERE.
First, we wrote in list form, coming up with ideas:
What is everything you think of when you hear the word “fuel”?
List all the words, ideas, images, memories, dreams, characters, stories...
Anything you can think of.
What does “fuel” mean to you? What fuels you? What do you fuel? What is fuel?
Ten ten minutes and get out all the possibilities, warming up your creative brain.
Next, we brainstormed as a group.
Let’s share some of the ideas you came up with.
I’ll write them on the board.
When I say “fuel” what comes to mind?
Share ideas you came up with, but you can also build on those, add to them.
Get inspired by the room’s ideas and build some more.
Note – whatever you share is fair game to steal, generously*.
But don’t worry – your interpretation of your idea will still be wholly yours, unique.
*As in -- all artists are thieves, but we take several ideas from many heroes,
put them in the blender as core ingredients and add in our own ideas,
rather than lifting whole ideas from another artist.
We came up with a lot of great word/idea associations with fuel as a group, like:
the open road
(to name a few)
I like how some don't make literal or cognitive sense to me right away.
Now, how do we turn these ideas into something bigger?
Let’s look at other writers’ use of the word “fuel”.
We’ll stick with poetry, because it’s easier to get variety with short poems.
But you can write a short story, persona essay or something else.
Third Poem for the Catastrophe
BY JOYELLE MCSWEENEY
melting rainbow that embrace this roof
giving us nothing, leaves its muck in the water
expects us to be knocked out by its fine colors
weren’t you nothing too, weren’t you
crunched down into fuel
and when that eggshell roof busts through
mama’s gonna buy you
a rainbow ride for free
an illumination, an inflammation
hyperion flame headdress
dream pins in the fuel
balloons of Koolaid burst down to cool
the sticky baby’s head
plus a credit card a glock a new bible
a princess dress
a mermaid princess dress
so you’ll be twice submerged
or an erased Indian princess
pajama set now go to sleep
BY EMILY BERRY
In the nighttime house I don’t know where you are
My allegiances could change
How can I stop my allegiances from changing?
Morning is a gown put on at midnight, but no one’s coming
I don’t know what your secrets are
You say you have no secrets but I can feel them,
they’re bumps under the blanket
You do not let me in
This mood kept me up all night, like stars in my face,
like the burning fuel of dead stars burning right through my face
So now I have my own secrets
This voyage at nighttime, these burning holes
I can’t take you with me —
I don’t know who you are
You say it’s me, but I’m dreaming,
I can’t recognize anything except someone else’s song,
which sounds like a kind of siren,
it’s calling me, it puts a light on
Give me three reasons
Oh, you think I test you?
You think I work you too hard?
You think it’s too much to make you master the task
on your blue-black knees at 3 am?
BY CATHY PARK HONG
I can no longer blush. Half-face towards the starchy scape.
Birds limn the spindle trees, their Listerine-hued eyes dart
as they trill mechanical dirges tabulating not again, not
again / I can no longer blush. The flat arctic sky
boundlessly jogs to another hemisphere / She grows!
Or her pectoral grows or all her pectorals grow / A drop of body
oil the size of a water balloon splooshes down on a man as a graceless
anointing, atomizing into tears / How delicate the sounds are from
her height! Glottal roses wink out of their throats: their voices
tine/ Now I am blushing / Swamp moss draped over the arcades / Oh
she’ll topple. She’s making for the welkin / swamps massage
the plywood foundations of our houses / And speaking of / she shoots
up not like a beanstalk but a city erected quick-time / and speaking
of, I blush blood / Roiling up past 200 ft, dizzy from all that phosphagen / I
be damned where she gits all that nylon, the size of wedding tents!/ She
flexes for her audience / Naugahide. Fuel injection. A sawed-off
shotgun will do you nothing just the rat-a-tat-tat / Rabelaisian
bullhonkies hunker and tinker tents around her / Roiling,
flexing / are louts without a law to bless them / a shadow
overcast / a footstep is a swamp in which gators pop up like whack-
a-mole carnival games / what are they saying? do they marvel?/ I am
hemorrhaging flames! / she aims with her thumb.
After reading these poems aloud, we talked about how they use the word fuel
And how we might use these poets tactics in what we write.
How many ways do these poets use the word fuel?
A nd also...
What is surprising or interesting about each?
What are the tools, pairings, images, structure they use?
What would you want to steal, generously?
What would you want to do differently?
Next, we wrote:
A story, essay, poem, or multiple poems using the word “fuel”
Use your ideas from your first listing. Expand on them.
Add in other ideas, images, from the group brainstorm, and other resources.
Use images and inspiration from the poems,
even if you’re writing fiction/nonfiction.
You can title something using “fuel” and then the body springs from there.
You can use the word in the text as a metaphor, an image, dialogue.
The whole piece could be about fuel. You decide. Write, walk away, come back to it.
After you write a draft, come back and revise it.
We wrote for 25 minutes.
You can write for as long as you like.
Do this with a friend, share your work and offer feedback!
Invite others to share what resonates about each share.
And one thing the writer could work on before submitting.
How did that go?
Submission deadline for Idaho Poets is February 4 at noon.
Happy writing and good luck!
Happy New Beginnings, everyone! Here are some of my highlights from last year. I'm very glad to be in 2019, but there were some sweet moments to look back on from 2018, for sure, some that I'd forgotten.
Here are my three big goals for 2019 and 2020:
3 Big Goals for the Next Two Years:
2019 is my year of compassion, generosity and gratitude toward myself and others.
Why do you do what you do?
From 2015...still relevant, and I'm still evolving...
I do what I do to find firm footing.
I need art like air to survive and I know others do too.
I seek groundedness.
I write my story so I can speak it.
I share it so others can do the same.
I act with courage, write and speak with courage
so I can stop my constant shame cycle and change that narrative.
I share so others may do the same.
I expose my vulnerable bits to connect with others.
I experiment with empathy so we can find mutual connections
between everyone in a room together seeking how our lives aren't so different.
I'm skilled at bravery. Go deeper into that. Be bolder.
I write to connect my fractured parts.
To put my story into characters' bodies. And physicalize them. Make them seen.
To feel how everybody hurts sometimes and to find strength to move on.
I write to show stories of the silenced, the before-me and others,
to reveal the humanity of people we believe to be unlovable,
impossible to connect with,
a character who fits our definition of un-relatable,.
Can we connect with humans we shut out as the other, as unnecessary, a number?
The homeless on the street, the schizophrenic in the hospital, the jailed in prison, the sociopath with a cause, the kid who has a hard time in the holiday months.
Love them not by showing only the good they do despite themselves,
but by seeing with exactitude all their parts,
the brutal and the beautiful.
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: