Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning from Rilke, Part 1

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) is a poet so intriguing and complex that even a brief biographical summary of his life is difficult to sketch. Basic facts such as his nationality and the language he wrote in are up for grabs. He was born in Prague in what is now the Czech Republic. Prague was then part of the Hapsburg (Austrian) empire. Rilke’s family was among the ten percent of Prague whose native tongue was German, not Czech. But after writing in German for most of his career, Rilke moved to Switzerland towards the end of his brief life and recreated himself as a French poet.

One of my favorite works by Rilke is a short poem he wrote in his early twenties. Rilke published the untitled poem, “If only once it would be completely still…” in his first important collection, The Book of Hours, actually a series of three books he wrote in the persona of a Russian monk speaking directly to God. In the late nineteenth century, many artists and intellectuals, inspired by the works of the great novelist Leo Tolstoy, looked to Russia as the wellspring of spiritual authenticity.

Here’s a very free translation I did of the Rilke poem, keeping fairly close to the original rhyme scheme. The German original follows:

If only once it would be completely still.
If that “Almost!” and “Why me?” will
just this once fall silent—and the laughter
next door—if my whirring senses didn’t keep after
me, hobbling me from watching as I ought—:

Then in a thousand-faceted thought
I could think every one of your features
and possess you (as my smile cranks
wide open), to give you to all living creatures
like a thanks.

(translation © 2012 by Zack Rogow)

Wenn es nur einmal so ganz stille wäre.
Wenn das Zufällige und Ungefähre
verstummte und das nachbarliche Lachen,
wenn das Geräusch, das meine Sinne machen,
mich nicht so sehr verhinderte am Wachen—:

Dann könnte ich in einem tausendfachen
Gedanken bis an deinen Rand dich denken
und dich besitzen (nur ein Lächeln lang),
um dich an alles Leben zu verschenken
wie einen Dank.

In this short poem Rilke attempts nothing less than a consciousness beyond everyday life. Then he turns that meditative openness into a compassion for all living creatures. For a poem spoken by a Christian monk, it’s a surprisingly Buddhist notion, especially for Europe in 1899, when this poem was published.
Rilke accomplishes these transformations partly by changing the very sound of the German language. We often think of German as being the language of the Kommandant barking rough and harsh orders. Rilke softens the syllables of German in this poem until the words feel almost whispered. No other German I’ve heard approaches this silkiness, except the magic spells in the fairy tales told by the Brothers Grimm.
Try listening to the poem in German. There are several YouTube versions of it, but this is my favorite. Ignore the schmaltzy background music.
In this ten-line poem, Rilke finds numerous ways to use the “ch” combination in German, an aspirated sound that is gentle and tender, using it three times in the space of two words: das nachbarliche Lachen— “the laughter next door.” He uses the “ch” three times again in the phrase dich denken/und dich besitzen (nur ein Lächeln lang): literally—“to think you/and possess you (only as long as a smile lasts).”
Wherever in this poem he uses a hard consonant sound like a “t” or a “k,” he almost always pillows it with a softer consonant before, such as an “s” or an “r” or an “n,” and follows it afterwards with a buffering vowel, an “e” or sometimes an “i” that prevents a hard landing, as in these words: stille, verhinderte, denken, verschenken. A translator can do little to imitate this command of language except to mention it in a note like this. I have tried to mirror the rhymes in my translation, another aspect of the poem’s spell-like language.
The soothing language Rilke uses builds surprisingly to a moment where the speaker talks to God using the intimate “du” pronoun. In a turn right out of the Baroque linking of the spiritual and sensual, like Bernini’s erotic-spiritual altar, The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, the speaker of Rilke’s poem says he wants to possess God like a lover.
Writers can learn from this poem that even the sound of our language is not a given. A poet or prose writer can mold language, transfigure it, like a sculptor moving clay. The states of mind that we are taught are normal are not a given either. Rilke shows us we can also change those through writing.

Other recent posts about writing topics:
Learning from Rilke, Part 2: "Archaic Torso of Apollo"; Rilke's "Autumn Day"

Friday, April 27, 2012

Words I (Almost) Never Use

In this blog I’d like to discuss words that are overly literary, or too poetic, self-consciously artistic, or dogmatic in tone. These are words I’ve heard too many times in creative writing. They’ve been used so often they no longer have much impact. Here are some examples:

people (as in, “the people”)

These words fall into several categories. One group concerns beauty, or things that are intrinsically beautiful, such as butterflies and crystals. Another group includes words that relate to spiritual awareness. One other category is words associated with political movements. Then there are words that describe weather.

All of these are terrific words. Most authors I know have written them at one time or another. It’s just that they’ve been used so many times that they have sunk into greeting-card, cliché language. They feel so tired they've already fallen asleep.

Since they are words for real and crucial things, how can we come up with expressions that function in a similar manner, but still surprise and delight the reader?

Get as close as possible to the actual experience you’re describing. Let’s say you’re writing about a sunrise after a rainstorm that led to a moment of transcendent awareness. What exactly did you see and experience? When you say “ecstasy,” what were you actually feeling? Where were the raindrops, and precisely what type of flower were they on? If raindrops were trembling on a leaf, could you push it farther and say they were “rattling” on the leaf? What colors were the clouds that you’ve never heard described before. Not “silver” but “white gold,“ for instance. Use your imagination to stretch the language as far as it can go and still connect with your reader.

If you’re talking about a shantytown, can you find details that are so specific that the oppression that produces that situation becomes painfully clear? That way the oppression doesn’t get obscured by a generalized word that could describe many different things.

Another way to rescue these overused words is to place them in an unexpected context or next to a word they don’t usually appear with. What about a “delicious crystal”? Or an “eternal alley cat”? Or an “elegant rain”? Or a “Monarch” instead of a “butterfly”?

I hope I don’t sound too cynical about these words for beauty, spiritual experiences, and political change. All those things are important, but it’s also crucial to strive toward freshness of language. Language must be continually recreated. Its respiration is vital to writers.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone, Part 5: Taking Leaps

This is Part 5 of a series of blogs on the ancient concept of the muse, and whether it has any uses for writers today.
For a writer, it’s useful to listen to those voices in your head—call them the muses if you want. Those voices sometimes tell us to do crazy things: “Joan, put on men’s armor and chase the English out of France for the glory of God.” Did Joan of Arc say, “Dude, that is so random! I’m just a teenager in a small city in France. You must be totally tripping.” No. She chased the English out of France. I think listening to those voices can be a much more exciting and daring way to work as a writer than to write from your everyday consciousness.
So when do you not listen to the voices, to the muse? When the voices tell you to do things that will not strengthen you or your writing. How do you know which ideas will weaken you and your writing, and which will not? There you do have to make the call yourself, using good judgment.
I’ve been talking about the power of the muse, but I've hardly even mentioned examples from poetry, the art that has always been the first to call on the muse.
There are the times that a poem just arrives as a gift from out of the blue, almost in a finished form. As I've mentioned, Rainer Maria Rilke is one classic example of this, writing the final sections of The Duino Elegies and his Sonnets to Orpheus in the space of a few weeks in Duino Castle in the winter of 1922. That sort of gift poem is the product of inspiration, one way the muse comes into our writing.
 But there's another way we as writers can really learn from the idea of the muse: in trusting those leaps of language, emotion, and subject that happen when you stretch logic and metaphor and feeling to its breaking point. In those moments you trust that the muse will allow you to stay in the realm of communication even though you may feel you’ve jumped off a diving board in the pitch dark with no sense of how far down the water is. I’m talking about poetic lines like these from Federico García Lorca’s “Gacela of Unforeseen Love,”

A thousand Persian ponies fell asleep
in the moonlit plaza of your forehead
while through four nights I embraced
your waist, enemy of the snow.

[translated by W.S. Merwin]

“A thousand Persian ponies fell asleep/in the moonlit plaza of your forehead”. The guy is nuts, right? And yet, when you fall in love with someone, you glimpse a peace as profound, crazy, and beautiful as a thousand Persian ponies dreaming in a midnight plaza, and Lorca has described that as literally as William Carlos Williams’s cold plums missing from the icebox in his poem “This Is Just to Say.”
And where is the muse in this metaphor of the poet jumping off the high diving board in total darkness? Is the muse splashing around in the pool, waiting to swim with you when you reach the water? Too distant. And anyway, then you might land on her when you hit the pool. Is the muse holding your hand as you dive? No, sorry, no one is holding your hand. As André Breton, the French Surrealist poet said, “Writing is the loneliest road that leads everywhere.” No, in the metaphor of the diving board, the muse is the one who pushes you off before you’re ready to jump, not knowing if what you’re going to say will make sense to a single other human being.

Other recent posts about writing topics:
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10

Friday, April 20, 2012

Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone? Part 4, Love in the Time of Cholera

I spoke in previous blogs about listening to what your own writing wants. Sometimes this involves fictional characters who have personalities and fates separate from what we might want them to have. A writer has to set his or her characters free so they can determine their own fates. This might sound odd, but let me give you an actual example.
When the Nobel laureate novelist Gabriel García Márquez was writing one of his masterpieces, Love in the Time of Cholera, he had a certain idea of what he wanted the family of the main female character, Fermina Daza, to look like. Here’s what García Márquez said in an interview about how he wrote this part of the novel:
“One of the characters was Fermina, an eighteen-year-old girl living in a Caribbean town in the late nineteenth century. She lived with her father, a Spanish immigrant, and with her mother, who I could not figure out. And there was her aunt, her father’s sister, who I saw very clearly and who had the same name. I just could not grasp the mother. I would seat them around the table and I could see how they all behaved—except for the mother. At first I thought the aunt was in the way. And I took her out and put her back again. But the mother was the problem. I could not see her, not the face, the name or anything about her. And then one day I woke up and realized what had happened. The mother had died while the girl was still young. And when I saw that the mother was dead, she became alive and real. She grew and had a great presence—in the house, in everyone’s memory. It made me so happy to resolve this. I had been stretching the logic of the book. I had been trying to put a dead person among the living, and that was not possible.”
I find it fascinating that a writer as masterful as García Márquez, talking about one of his best works, describes his writing process almost as if he is a spectator to the lives of his characters. His main role as he recounts it is to record what the characters are saying and doing. It is his job to determine what is authentic to the story and the characters, not to make the story come out the way he wants. He has to hold true to what he calls “the logic of the book.” This is where I feel the presence of the muse, because there must be some power that determined that Fermina’s mother had to exit the book as a living character. 
Maybe the muse is another name for what García Márquez calls the “logic of the book.” Even to García Márquez, it did not seem as if he was making this edit himself. It’s amazing that he trusted the creative process so much that he could give his characters the freedom to develop that much on their own. When he discovered what the book wanted, rather than what he wanted for it, García Márquez had what he called in the same interview “one of the most curious and enjoyable literary experiences” he ever had. I think when we are writing at our best, this is how the experience feels to us, as if the muse is powering the writing, and we are the vehicle for her work.

In my next blog on the muse, I'll talk about voices in the writer's head, what they are, and when to listen to them. 

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adrienne Rich: A Few Scattered Memories

I first met Adrienne Rich in 1976, when she was helping to organize a group of poets to protest the editorial policies of the American Poetry Review, which was not yet publishing many poets of color, women, or younger poets. (The editorial policy has changed dramatically at APR since then.) Adrienne hosted a meeting of the organizing group at her apartment on 93rd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I had never heard her read at that time, though I knew her amazing poems, so even to be in her presence was an exciting but frightening event for a twenty-four-year-old budding poet.

Adrienne welcomed me to her home with warmth and a flashing smile that I hadn’t expected. As we walked from the door, I noticed her limp, a result of the rheumatoid arthritis that eventually caused her recent death. She corrected my pronunciation of her name. She had her own way of saying add-dree-ENN.

During the course of that successful campaign to change the editorial policies of APR, more than one of the better-known poets who supported the effort, and actively participated that night at Adrienne’s, bowed out of any public role in the effort. We all agreed on an open letter to APR challenging their editorial policies. June Jordan, who had initiated the entire campaign, drafted an eloquent text. When the letter was published, some of the celebrated poets who had joined us at first decided not to be public signers of the letter. Adrienne stayed with the effort all the way, risking her own strong ties to APR. That was typical of her committed politics.

In fact I had an odd interaction with Adrienne over just this point. One of the most active members of our group, Jane Cooper, decided that she couldn’t sign the open letter, even though she had meticulously compiled the statistics that helped us make our case, going back over every issue of APR to count all the poets published. At the last minute, though, Jane told Adrienne confidentially she couldn’t sign the letter, since APR had been particularly supportive of her personally, even featuring her work on a recent cover. I volunteered to type up the final version of the letter for circulation. (There were no personal computers back then, it was all typewriters. I had an ancient Underwood manual made of heavy steel with a little medallion on it that read “Speeds the World’s Business.”)

I was living a life at the time very much like the movie Rent, in Bohemian shared apartments in the East Village. One night my roommates introduced me to a controlled substance that had mind-altering effects. I was still recovering from those effects the next morning when one of my roommates came into my room and said, “I think Adrienne Rich is on the phone and wants to talk to you right now.”

That spelled terror for a twenty-four year old male poet. I jumped out of bed and went to the phone. Adrienne was irate that Jane Cooper’s name had appeared on the published version of the open letter. Somehow the message had never been passed to me to omit Jane’s name. The letter went out with Jane’s name among the signers, violating a relationship of trust that Jane had with APR. It took quite a bit of explaining before Adrienne was satisfied that it wasn’t my fault, it was just a miscommunication.

Later I got to hear Adrienne read her poems many times, most recently at the Lunch Poems Reading Series at UC Berkeley on February 6, 2003. Adrienne was by then much weakened physically by her illness. As coordinator of the series, I worked out elaborate preparations for how to get her up on the stage at International House on the Berkeley campus. We tested the backstage elevator to make sure it would get her to the height of the podium. In the end, despite evident pain, Adrienne just marched up the stairs in front of the whole audience. Once onstage, Robert Hass, who was introducing her that day, took her arm. Adrienne’s power as a poet, though, was never diminished by her illness.

One of my favorite poems by Adrienne Rich is “Heroines,” from her great book A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far. It’s an audacious poem from a formal standpoint, using the triadic line that Mayakovsky and William Carlos Williams had innovated. In the poem, Adrienne salutes the women social activists of the nineteenth century, while teasing out the nuances of their class privilege. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Your mind burns
                            not like the harbor beacon
                                                                       but like a fire
of fiercer origin
                         you begin speaking out
and a great gust of freedom
                                             rushes in with your words

Adrienne would not have liked to be compared to those heroines—she shunned any honors that focused on her and not her beliefs—but those lines are so true of her own poetry. I always came away from a reading by Adrienne feeling changed. Her poetry summoned us to do our best and better. Her language was forged by the blaze of her convictions. She was one of those rare human beings whose very presence altered you. I love the great gusts of freedom that rush in with her words.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

Monday, April 16, 2012

Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone? Part 3, Allow Your Writing a Life of Its Own

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention…”

I still get a few shivers when I read that cry for a muse at the very beginning of Shakespeare’s play Henry V. “A Muse of Fire”—I love it! That’s the opposite of cliché language, to take the muses, spirits of the water, and turn them into flame.
But I’m not suggesting that you begin your works with an address to the muse. That is the very last thing I would ever suggest.
What’s most interesting to me about the ancient concept of the muse is that it seems like a fairly accurate description of the creative process when it reaches a certain speed or intensity—in other words, when it works best. When we are writing at our most inspired, it does feel as if the work is flowing from a spring beyond our personal consciousness. Even if we are writing about our most intimate memories or hopes, a moment can occur where we feel as if we are taking dictation, or as if the work is pouring through us, rather than from us.
This reminds me of that famous moment in literary history when the poet Rainer Maria Rilke was walking by himself on the ramparts of Duino Castle by the Adriatic Sea, at the very edge of the European landmass and at the extreme moment of his personal despair. Rilke looked at the waves dynamiting against the rocks and the bunched-up storm and heard the first words of the Duino Elegies come to him as if out of a dark cloud: “Even if I cried out loud, who would hear me in the ranks of the angels?” It’s a strange and fascinating question: why does he need the angels to hear him? That kind of line in Rilke’s poetry is so intriguing and maddening. It’s what makes me come back to his work over and over.
What does this mean for us as writers, that we seem to reach our greatest personal triumphs when we are least personally in control of our writing? It’s a humbling truth, one that should keep us from getting too swell-headed about our work. But beyond that, can we use the idea of the muse, or of an external inspiration, in practice? Can this idea help us as writers and as critical editors of our own creations?
To try to persuade you why this is important, I’m going to approach this subject by means of a metaphor: the parent and the child. There is a sense in which we are the parents of our writing, not its owners, any more than a father or a mother owns a child. Parents always want certain things for their children—those wishes may be a father or mother’s deepest hopes, in fact. But parents who insist on their children being just like them or parents who demand that their kids fulfill their frustrated dreams are missing one of the great mysteries of parenting. The greater challenge, for the parent and for the writer, is to witness the child or the work forming itself on its own, so closely related to the parent, but independent and with its own hopes and desires and weaknesses. Similarly, when we see our own writing most clearly is when we are no longer thinking of what we want for the work. We begin to think of what is best for the work. We start to let our writing tell us what it wants us to do for it, not what we want for it.

In my next blog I’ll discuss how this need for the work to exist on its own played out in the writing of one of my favorite novels, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

Other recent posts about writing topics:
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone? Part 2, How and Why to Avoid Clichés

As poetic as the muses may be, I’m afraid that there is no more cliché moment in literature than invoking the muse at the beginning of an epic poem: “Sing, oh, ye muse!” And writers should avoid cliché diction like athletes in training should shun cheese fries and chocolate chip cookie sundaes. Cliché language is the very opposite of what Muse Power brings to our writing, which is the spark of the unexpected but true.
When I’m editing my own writing, I try to do one reading of my work where I’m not thinking about anything except purging cliché diction. I’m not looking at the overall success of the structure, the characters of the story, the arc of the emotion or plot—I’m just marking every cliché expression. 
How do you spot cliché language in your work? Ask yourself if you’ve ever, even once, read this image, description, or phrase before. If you have, or even if you suspect you have, it’s probably cliché and already overly familiar to the reader.
Why is that a bad thing? Because it doesn’t really register the emotion or image you’re trying to get those words to carry. If you write to your beloved, “My heart burns with desire for you,” it conveys anything but passion, since it seems as though you’re just repeating someone else’s words.
So what do you do when you spot cliché language? View it as an opportunity to go back to the emotion or scene that moved you to put it into words. Re-experience it the way you did the first time. Gather the image or scene deep in your imagination and then live it and describe it again. Instead of “My heart burns with desire,” go back to the source—write “It scares me how beautiful you are,” or something that really gets to that edgy emotion that pushed you to write in the first place. Or take the language you used and bend, twist, stretch, compress, rip, mince, or sauté it. Bring the words back to life.
A thesaurus is often not useful in this regard. A thesaurus is only going to take you to a word on the same level as the one you chose. You want to take your language up to the next level when you are trying to edit out cliché expressions.

In my next blog, I’ll return to the subject of the muse to discuss how that idea can liberate writers to tap into the fountain of inspiration. 

Other recent posts about writing topics:
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone? Part 1

In this series of blogs, I'll talk about the ancient Greek idea of the muse, and whether there is anything writers can learn from that concept today.

You probably know that the concept of the muse as an inspiration for writers dates back to ancient Greece. But the muses then were not simply women whose presence sparked a poet to compose, as in this sentence: “Matilde Urrutia was Neruda’s muse and companion for more than a quarter of a century.” No, the muses in ancient Greece were viewed as goddesses, worshipped at shrines. Followers made sacrifices to them. People venerated them and believed in their immortality.
The muses of ancient Greece were always closely associated with liquid. They were water nymphs. According to mythology they inhabited two freshwater springs on an actual mountain in Greece: Helicon. One of the those fonts was the Hippocrene Spring. A myth recounts how the Hippocrene Spring first spouted when the winged horse Pegasus struck a rock with his hoof. Interesting that from ancient times creativity was associated with fluidity. We still talk that way. Think of the expression: “get your creative juices flowing.”
The muses, of course, were female, and poetic inspiration was not limited in ancient Greece to men. There was Sappho, but there were also other well-known women poets, including Nossis and Anyte, poets who were major influences on the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle).
In Greek mythology, there were nine different muses, all of them sisters. I find it intriguing that the Greeks would recognize that inspiration has a completely different personality for different genres. Isn’t that the case, though? Each muse inspired a different sort of writing. I’ll list them, partly because I just like the sound of their names: Calliope was the source of epic poetry. Her sister Clio inspired history. Erato was the muse of love poetry or erotic writing. Euterpe was behind lyric poetry. Melpomene inspired tragedy. Polyhymnia guided sacred song, Terpsichore choral song and dance. Thalia sparked comedy and nature poetry. And lastly Urania was the muse of astronomy, which in ancient Greece was also written in metered verse.
The ancient Greek writer Hesiod said the nine muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. Interesting that inspiration should be the child of memory and a thunderbolt, but writers know that is often the case. We rely on our memories to create or recall stories and images, even when we’re depicting fictional characters or situations. The thunderbolt could be that unexpected jolt of creativity that moves a project from random thoughts in our minds to something that speaks to a hunger or a common story in us and others. Of course in Hesiod’s time, the seventh century B.C.E., most literature was also memorized rather than written down, another connection between the muses and memory, as Eric Havelock points out in his book The Muse Learns to Write.
Hesiod, who described the muses in his book the Theogony, speaks of them always as singing: “Unwearying flows the sweet sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus—the loud thunderer—delights in the lily voice of the goddesses as it spreads, as it echoes off the peaks of snowy Olympus…” Hesiod recounts how the muses are “telling of things that are and things that will be,” giving them prophetic sight as well. 

In my next blog, I'll talk about the muses and how to banish cliché language from your writing. 

Other recent posts about writing topics:
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gunter Grass’s Poem on Israel and Iran

I have to applaud certain aspects of Gunter Grass’s recent poem, “What Must Be Said.” His writing breaks the silence on the potential for the current Israeli-Iranian standoff to explode into a terribly dangerous war. I disagree with his conclusion, though—that Israel’s nuclear program should be subject to international inspection or control, parallel to Iran’s. I don’t think there is an equivalency between Iran’s aggressive posture toward Israel and Israel’s scrambling for its right to exist in a region that too often has proved hostile to its survival.

What remains surprisingly silent in Grass’s breaking of the silence is the plight of the Palestinian people. As we Jews gather at Passover seders all over the world to celebrate our own freedom from slavery in biblical times, it remains painfully ironic that Palestine remains a country in the Middle East that does not have its freedom.

The solution to the standoff between Israel and Iran is not to disarm Israel and leave it helpless before its larger and often hostile neighbors. The solution is a just resolution that gives the Palestinians full statehood on the West Bank and in Gaza, and leaves Israel in peace.

I don't see the rationale behind inspecting or controlling Israel's nuclear program until we have an international ban on all atomic weapons--and I hope that happens sooner rather than later.

True, Gunter Grass’s poem is nothing like the eloquent and gorgeous political poetry of Pablo Neruda or June Jordan. Grass's poem is more like an essay in verse. But it’s not every day that a poem becomes front-page news. That in itself is something to celebrate on this double holiday weekend, where we mark both the exodus of the Jews from slavery and the teachings of Jesus that the meek shall inherit the earth—or what’s left of it after this mess we’re making of the environment. Justice and sustainability—bring them together, and the future will not seem so dire.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer