Welcome, dear blog readers, to another installment of the “Pick-a-Poem” posts here on the Jet Fuel Review blog. Every Wednesday we feature a poem from a poet that you may not have heard of. These poems come courtesy of the very helpful website, Poetry Daily. If you’re looking for some new poetry to check out, try out their site! This week we feature a poem entitled Entrance, written by William Greenway.

According to his bio page on Poetry Daily, William Greenway has written two award-winning collections of poetry. Both Ascending Order (2003) and Everywhere at Once (2008), both published by the University of Akron Press, won the Ohioana Poetry Book of the Year Award in the year they were published. His work has also appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review,  Southern Review, and Prairie Schooner. He is professor of English at Youngstown State University.

Entrance, by William Greenway

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If you want to learn more about being a writer, or about the craft of writing, there are numerous resources out there for you to reference. There are books, there are websites, and there are blog posts like this one. There are books that will tell you how to write a specific genre and books that will tell you how to write for certain audiences. There are books that will tell you how to edit, revise, submit, and self-publish your own work.

My point, I believe, in listing all of these writing resources, is that you could easily read yourself silly and never get any writing done. I think I’ve written about my opinions regarding certain writing resources before on this blog. Generally, I think writing books that model themselves after self-help books are of no use. You can spend days reading those books, highlighting pertinent passages, and taking notes. But all of that time is time you could have spent writing.

Another good point is that writing books tend to present the craft of writing as very cut-and-dry. As Jael McHenry says, in her article on Writer Unboxed, “So many of these books are about formula: if only you follow the framework, they say, you’ll have a book that’s not only universally loved by critics, but also embraced by readers everywhere. One word: HA. Frameworks are all well and good, but creative work can never be paint-by-numbers.”

I echo Jael McHenry: Ha! Writing cannot be done according to a formula or framework. And she’s right, many of those books present writing in that way. Personally I think that’s a flawed representation and following it will not help you become a better writer. In her post, McHenry also says that those who produce writing books exist to sell those writing books. So the books may not have your best interest at heart, honestly.

Instead of reading about writing, I would suggesting reading to write. The difference is in the materials — rather than reading about the craft and about how you “should” practice it, read the works of the greats. Read what you enjoy the most. Read what you think writing should be. Seeing what other authors have done before you is far more beneficial than reading about a formula, framework, or step-by-step for writing.

What do you think? Do you disagree with me completely? How do you feel about books about writing? Share in the comments!

– Jet Fuel Blog Edtior, Mary Egan

Virginia Smith Rice publishes her first book, When I Wake It Will Be Forever.wheniwake

Virginia Smith Rice writes poetry and teaches art in Woodstock, Illinois.

She earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University and is co-editor of Kettle Blue Review, an online poetry journal.

When I Wake It Will Be Forever, is now available from Sundress Publications. Some of her individually published poems can be found on the Poems page.

Virginia can be contacted through Kettle Blue Review.

“Both shimmering and seething, haunted and haunting, the complex, dazzling contours of When I Wake It Will Be Forever beckon the reader with the imperative of ‘listen’; and we do, because Rice’s poems vibrate with a ‘voice thorned and singing / but not human.’ Like her poetic parentage—Desnos, Szymborska, Tranströmer and Csoóri—there is a wisdom contained in this work that transcends a singular being’s experience; ultimately elegiac, yet ‘lit by inner, hidden suns,’ this book is a stellate network of memory, loss, longing, silence, and voice. Often serving as witness (to an aunt’s suicide, a stranger’s suicide, ‘the suicide in my voice’) Rice pays tribute to the manifold ghosts that clamor inside us. This is one of the most solidly exquisite and lingering first books I’ve had the honor of reading.”
-Simone Muench

“Virginia Smith Rice has created a tremblingly precise, intricate, bright-edged evocation of a world both ecstatic and ominous, grieving and vital, broken and mending, but rarely mended. Her poems are richly colored and intensely focused on the shapes and forms of the world and of inner life and relationships. They are crowded with living plants and creatures and intense feeling, and Rice can even describe the color of solitude. Her language is sensuously complex, her angle of vision is oblique and finds the memorable touch of reality off-cenvsmithter, at the edges, just this side of perceptibility. She has created a delicate yet vivid response to what she calls the ‘percussed absence’ that haunts human life. This is a marvelous first book.”
-Reginald Gibbons

“A Virginia Smith Rice poem is naked, like a bulb, although, unlike a bulb in the dark, it does not want to be seen dangling by and for itself, it does not want to be interpreted as the centre of its universe, even as a frame does not. Her poems say instead their warm color of incandescence to some still life hanging from a wall. When a Virginia Smith Rice poem says, ‘Autumn laps gently as a well-fed dog: each pale / branch remembers leaves as essential things, / and how easy it is to let things go,’ it at once frames a scene of plenty, of longing, and of regret. In this way, the poems in When I Wake It Will Be Forever are always pleasurable, colorful and sincere in and to every sense.”
-Rethabile Masilo, author of Things That Are Silent

Today, let’s talk about first drafts. In some ways, first drafts are the best. You get to discover your story as you’re writing, you get to branch off into imaginative areas, and you get to experience your story for the first time as you work your way through it. First drafts, however, can also be abysmal. They are, by definition, supposed to be not very good. I think we all know that intrinsically. But when it comes time to edit your first draft, you may be a bit down about what you produced over those months or years when you were working on it.

Personally, I am going through some first draft woes at the moment. Last November I began a project for National Novel Writing Month. Last month, I finished the first draft of that project. Ever since then I have been trying to embark on an editing journey, but it has been slow-going. Though I have written 7 different projects for 7 different National Novel Writing Months, I have not glanced back at those projects or tried to edit them since my first two years participating. Those projects were back when I was 16 and 17, so a lot has changed since then.

Now, as I’m beginning to revise and edit this new writing project, I’m starting to feel down on myself about the book’s organization and on how much needs to change. I know that the first draft was always meant to be horrible, but the editing process can still be painful and arduous. It’s definitely not as fun or as easy as writing that first draft.

I recently found an article on Writer Unboxed, 10 Tips about Process, which mentioned these first draft woes. The article’s author, Brunonia Barry, says “Write a mess of a first draft and never show it to anyone…If I thought I had to show those pages to anyone, I’d probably stop writing. I think first drafts should be messy, like finger painting. When I finally finish the book, I burn them.”

I suppose that’s some consolation. As bad as this first draft might be, no one ever needs to see it. The pages never need to see the light of day. For now all I have to do is gather up the courage to look through them myself and make them better wherever I can.

If you, too, are dealing with some first draft woes, just keep on working! Doing a little bit each day can slowly but surely chip away at that first draft. Before you know it, you’ll have a much neater and nicer second draft. Happy writing!

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

Welcome to the Writing Process Blog Tour!Muench.WolfCentos copy

I’d like to thank Simone Muench for inviting me to participate.

Simone Muench is the author of five full-length collections including Orange Crush (Sarabande, 2010) and Wolf Centos (Sarabande, 2014), as well as the chapbook Trace (Black River Award; BLP, 2014). She is a recipient of a 2013 NEA fellowship, two Illinois Arts fellowships, and residencies to VSC, Yaddo, Artsmith, and ACA. She received her Ph.D from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and directs the writing program at Lewis University where she teaches creative writing and film studies, while serving as chief faculty advisor for Jet Fuel Review.

You can read Simone Muench’s responses here.

1. What am I working on?

I’ve been moving between translation and poetry projects this year; first, in the fall when I was on sabbatical and carmen-natalia-martnez-bonillaable to travel to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In the DR, I was able to meet with Sherezada (Chiqui) Vicioso whose collection of feminist essays on Caribbean women writers, Algo que decir (Something Worth Saying) I’ve translated with the help of Socorro Cintrón. Socorro and I are now working on a set of poems by another Dominican, Carmen Natalia Bonilla Martínez (1917 – 1976), Llanto para el hijo nunca llegado (Lament for the Child Never Who Never Arrived). Also related to translation, I’ve recently begun serving as the Translations Editor for a quarterly feature in the online journal, Escape into Life. The first translation feature there is Jesse Lee Kercheval’s work from Uruguayan poets, Augustín Lucas and Circe Maia.

As for my poetry projects, I’m finishing up two chapbooks of elegies that I hope to form into one manuscript: Threnody and The Fury Psalms. Both centered on elegy, the first processes grief through poetic forms, linguisimages-1tic tropes, and seasonal markers to interrogate both personal loss and the loss of language that accompanies it. The second picks up some of those thematics through spliced centos in a larger dialogic structure that ventriloquizes Sexton and Plath, framed by “purer” centos with are then fractured into “extractions” that put a lengthier, discursive poem in conversation with the lyric knot excised from it. I hope to begin soon a “remake” of an older project, Eurynome in Exile, building on these projects and a previous series of “body centos” in ways that will allow me to explore the intersections between translation and poetry alongside hemispheric intersections of “American” identity.

I was delighted to read in Tyler Mill’s blog of her interests in “investigat[ing] the lyric persona, the body, landscapes, and memory,” as that speaks to my interests, as well, and yet, as I’ve been reflecting on my old project related to “exile” and issues of place, I’ve begun to realize that the lurking concern – and one of the lyric poem’s innate concerns – is with time. (Eurynome, Pelagasian goddess of place, was exiled by the Greek Cronus, god of time; you can read an excerpt from the initial project here: Seven Corners Poetry. I’m curious to see how that sensibility morphs what and how I write next, particularly as attitudes and grammars of time seem to be so culturally inscribed – U.S. Americans supposedly future-oriented, for example, and other Americans more engaged with the present or the past…

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?  4f55529bee2ec_80495n

My work in elegy differs from others because of its more foregrounded attention to linguistic matters and metaphors as well as in my experimentations with the dialogic, the cento, and other stanzaic forms (couplet, tercet, sonnet, for example). To some extent my elegies also address gender and the gendered body, as well, probably because these later chapbooks or sequences follow my previous chapbook, Come clearing, which has those issues at its core. Another possible difference in my work is a Midwestern landscape sensibility and a tension between meditative tone and clipped or unusual juxtaposed phrasings.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Where “what” refers to content: because I’ve never felt completely at home and because words offer both a home and an exploration of its limits and possibilities—and by “home” I include landscape and body, relational constructs and language(s). Where it refers to genre: because I like the containers that poetic forms provide and prefer lyric to narrative and, to speak of translation as well, because I like to give voice to other voices and to be part of larger conversations in intimate ways.

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Happy Wednesday, blog readers, and welcome to another installment of our Pick-a-Poem feature. Each week we bring you a new poem from a poet you may not have heard of before, courtesy of the Poetry Daily website. Poetry Daily is very helpful if you’re looking for some new poetry to read. I’d highly recommend the site! This week we’re featuring Incipient, a poem written by Elizabeth Bradfield.

According to her bio page on Poetry Daily, Elizabeth Bradfield has written two collections of poetry, Approaching Ice (Persea, 2010) and Interpretive Work (Red Hen Press, 2008). In addition, her poetry  has been published in The Atlantic, Poetry, Field, Orion, and The New Yorker. This featured poem, Incipient, is from her forthcoming collection, Once Removed, to be published by Persea Books in 2015. She is a contributing editor of Alaska Quarterly Review.

Incipientby Elizabeth Bradfield

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What is the essence of a story? What element of a story is most important to focus on as a writer? What method do you use to reach that “real” story? Recently there was an article on Writer Unboxed called “Here’s What Both Pantsing and Plotting Miss: The Real Story,” and it intrigued me. For those of you who don’t know, “pantsers” and “plotters” are two different types of writers. “Pantsers” are those writers who fly by the seat of their pants and just start writing without plotting at all. “Plotters,” as you may be able to guess, are the writers who plot out their story before writing a word.

In this article, Lisa Cron suggests that both of these types of writers are missing something essential about the writing process and about their story. Cron says, “Both Pantsing and Plotting, by definition, bypass the key element around which a story is built. It’s the element that drives every story forward, which is why both methods often yield manuscripts that are primarily just a bunch of things that happen, rather than an actual story. It’s a big part of why agents reject 99% of submissions, and why most self-published novels sell fewer than 100 copies, and it’s simply this: your protagonist’s inner issue, her inner agenda, and the story-driven evolution of her internal belief system, is where the real story lives.”

Cron says that there is a “third rail” to every story, which falls outside the blind creativity of  pantsers and the over-organization of plotters. This third rail is your character’s inner agenda. What does she want? What is he striving for? That inner struggle and inner desires are the heart of your story. Those things –allegedly — are what will make your story interesting, and will make readers keep reading. Those things may not come through the blind discovery writing of a pantser or the more strict, methodical writing of a plotter.

I understand what Cron is saying in the above quote, and in her article in general. By placing importance on a meticulous plot or simply having fun in your writing, you may be missing out on something else. I agree that the character’s inner desires are important, because I most enjoy reading and watching character-driven stories. But I don’t think that’s cause to discount either pantsing or plotting.

Both of these writing methods can be helpful to writers, and they can both be good jumping-off points from which to begin. Some writers need that method to begin with and then, once they get going, can either add some more plotting or be a bit freer with their discoveries when writing. I think a mix of the two methods would be ideal.

What do you think? Which type of writing do you most often practice? Check out the original article and let us know what you think!

– Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan