Thursday, August 27, 2015

Presentation on Mindful Writing at New Hampshire Poetry Festival

I'll be presenting on mindful writing at the New Hampshire Poetry Festival, September 19, 2015.

Here's the description of the session: 

Mindful writing is a powerful technique to improve both the overall quality of our writing experience and our poetic production. Mindfulness techniques help poets become more aware of the present moment and bring three powerful benefits to the act of writing. The first benefit of mindfulness is noticing the vacancy of the moment: the true privacy a poet has from any eventual audience. The second benefit includes noticing our self-talk and the types of preconceptions and judgments we carry about our own writing ability. The third benefit of mindfulness involves noticing that self-talk in order to find new content for poems. Mindfulness shows us how a non-stop river of inner talk passes through each moment: a river rich in imagery, phrasing, and ideas. Mindfulness also teaches us about the constant fluctuation of experience such that no state of writing (difficulty or success) is permanent: the reward of this fluctuation is an abundance of possibility. In this presentation, I will explain the tenets of mindful writing and provide participants with hands-on experience with mindful writing techniques, including Yoga for Hands and a mindful eating activity to enhance poetic description. Participants will be guided toward a visceral—not abstract—experience of mindfulness and of the joys of the present moment.

Information on New Hampshire Poetry Festival:

This fall, the Granite State celebrates its strong poetry tradition with the inaugural New Hampshire Poetry Festival. Organized by The Poetry Society of New Hampshire and The New Hampshire Institute of Art, the event takes place Saturday, September 19, 2015, 8am-8pm at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH.  The conference features readings, panels, and workshops by some of the country’s best-known poets and scholars including a headliner reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic.

The NH Poetry Fest brings together a broad community including poets winning prestigious awards including the Pulitzer and Pushcart Prizes; Guggenheim, MacDowell Colony, Cave Canem and National Endowment of the Arts Fellows; heads of literary organizations; professors; well-known editors, and students of poetry at multiple levels. 

Gibson’s Bookstore from Concord, NH, will sell speakers’ books onsite. Participants also have the opportunity to talk with exhibiting publishers and educators including Hobblebush Books, Tupelo Press, Zephyr Press, New Hampshire Institute of Art, The Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College and New England College MFA Creative Writing Program. 

For more information or to register, please visit: find us on Facebook ( or Twitter (@NHPoetryFest).    

Saturday, August 22, 2015

This Can't Be Said Often Enough about the Preverbal

Behind me as I type this sentence is a bookcase the bottom three feet of which are filled with journals of various sizes and colors, artist sketch notebooks, composition notebooks, big folios, fancier journals, covering about twelve years. 

In the past, I'd often thought I was not writing, and I struggled; it felt painful. During those times, I mostly wrote notes toward poems in those journals or sat thinking at my desk. Now I see that what was mostly happening was a prolonged phase of prewriting, a necessary dormancy for the purposes of developing my current writing.

This is what can't be emphasized often enough about prewriting and the preverbal: it's necessary, natural, as important as writing/revising/finishing/publishing. If a writer doesn't recognize this importance, there's a chance he or she will give up or harshly judge themselves.

When I said this in my July 24 post, "As a result, some writers misconstrue the silence of the preverbal as an indicator of their deficiency and either struggle in a state of doubt or give up altogether. In fact, this gap in writers' training could be the main culprit behind people's writing blocks after they graduate from MFA and PhD programs," it applies to any person trying to write, regardless if they identify as a writer.

Over the summer, I've had the opportunity in my professional context to read over a 1,000 essays by new university students. Time and again, I was struck by their bald admissions, tinged with frustration and worry, of how frequently they felt they were unable to write well because of a single incident, single genre, single teacher. (They usually picked the most pernicious of genres--graduation speeches, standardized testing essays, or college entrance essays--as the determinant of their abilities.) I also heard them talk about how long it takes them to start an assignment and how they believed the amount of time they remained in the preverbal was an indicator that there was something wrong with their writing ability. Something about school made them think they needed to go from zero to 65, from first hearing of an assignment to finding the approach for that assignment, in a way that professional writers often don't ask of themselves. It wasn't impatience I noted in the students but instead real concern.

We need to talk more about what occurs in prewriting.  We don't address the preverbal, leaving students to think that silence, pauses, dormancy, is their unique problem. Really, writing education is tilted toward product, outcome, the final draft, no matter how much our theory says otherwise. No matter what most writers think they believe, ultimately it's the end result that's given the most value. The message is that you're supposed to dash in and out of the preverbal and spend very little time in that spot. What's the risk of staying in the preverbal a bit longer?

* image from theconsciousprocess

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Preverbal as a Form of Private Writing

Private writing is not as odd as it may seem. Writers throughout time have kept a private reserve of writing, material not shown to others, possibly a journal, early drafts, or notes.The preverbal is just an enhanced version of that privacy: it is impossible to show one's preverbal work to a reader, a sign that there are indeed moments in the writing process which do not concern audience, which are solely intrapersonal expression. To try to show your preverbal efforts would be like trying to show someone all the breathing you've done in the past twenty minutes or trying to show the elusive laugh track of your unconscious. If the preverbal (which is like an erased scene) is watched, within moments the phrases of others and of your unconscious flit past like flocks of birds made from dotted lines, along with snippets of overheard ideas and strings of voice. Soon, lines in the mind appear. (You don't have to be a poet to hear lines.) Soon, your writing begins, writing which may or may not be seen by others, but the preverbal, the preverbal is indeed your space.

* image provided by