7 Reasons to Read Emily Dickinson

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As I mentioned previously, our household has two patron poet saints, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. In some ways Uncle Walt is an easy person to like. He’s enthusiastic and authentic. He loves almost everybody. He seems like a great guy to have a beer with. (Of course, you would be buying.)

Emily Dickinson is a harder sell. She’s intense and intensely strange. She writes about death, and snakes, and bees. She has a reputation for being a hermit. Academics tend to get into arguments about whether she avoided company because she was “shy” or because she had work to do and didn’t want to spend all day complementing visitors on their hats and offering to pour them some more tea. Yes, I’m in the latter camp.

Here’s why you should read some of her poems: Continue reading

Who’s Your Patron Poet?

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In our Unitarian Universalist household, we have a running joke about patron saints. Since I met my husband in graduate school for creative writing, our designated saints are poets: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

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What’s a Muse? And Why Do I Need One?

Photo of Marble statue of Isis by Carole Raddato via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

Photo of Marble statue of Isis by Carole Raddato via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

You may have heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk about about creativity and inspiration, in which she discussed the idea that writers and other creative people are visited by a Muse while they work. This extraordinary being (angel? daemon? goddess? blithe spirit?) drops by to guide the writer’s hand and leads the writer to produce something beyond what her normal abilities would allow her to produce. This is a very old idea– so old, in fact, that the Muses as we know them date back to the classical period in Greece. If you look around on the web, you can find lists of their names and information about their appearances in classical literature.

It’s an interesting idea, for sure. But Gilbert suggests that this is more than idea. It is the way that you make peace with your creativity. You understand that your part of the deal as an artist is to show up and work hard. The rest is up to the Muse. It’s not up to you, the writer, to be an amazing creative genius. Therefore you don’t need to feel badly if the writing isn’t going as well as you’d like. You just keep going. Sooner or later the Muse will show up.

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The Difference Between Poetry and Fiction

Lately I have found myself thinking about poetry and fiction, and why they are different, and how that difference affects the writing process. Some people think the difference is rhyme, or figurative language, or line length. In this view, poetry has these devices, and fiction does not. As for me, I think the difference is conflict.

Dog vs. cat

Photo of Ongoing Conflict by Fiona MacGinty-O’Neill via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

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All You Need is a First Line

Sometimes the hardest thing about a poem/essay/story/novel is writing the beginning. Putting the words down on the page is like standing up in front of a room full of people and saying, “Listen up!” It’s a big moment. What if they don’t listen? What if they do, and they don’t like what they heard? What if your work is boring? Really, there’s no end to the ways you can screw up. Continue reading