Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Writing Tips from Italy: Guest blog by Giulio Mozzi and Laura Pugno

A friend gave me a copy of a wonderful manual for writers by the Italian authors Giulio Mozzi and Laura Pugno. Their book is full of great ideas and prompts.
Link to: Oracular Manual for Poets
Though the book is particularly for poets, I’ve translated three sections that I think are of interest to all writers. Grazie, Giulio and Laura for giving me permission to reprint these!
Co-author Laura Pugno

Co-author Giulio Mozzi
Do words have souls?

A poet considers every word and every thing as if it were alive. They might actually be alive. What do they want to say?  


A good poet is an animist who looks at things as if they were saturated with life, death, stories, and words. And in the same vein, a poet looks at every word they hear, read, say, or write as if it were a living being. Not only that: a good poet is a matchmaker who brings together words and things based on their affinities and preferences. To sum it up: a good poet is like that clever servant who pretends to do the bidding of things and words, but who in reality is the one in charge, the one who masters them, and bends them to meet a particular need in a piece of writing.


Who lives in your poems?


The “us,” that unknown. How many homes can you make in it that you’ve never even thought about? Collective poetry, choral poetry. There’s a whole world out there: the others.


With your own voice, unique and private, you, as a poet, are the founder of a community. But how is it possible that poetry, which is such a lyrical and solitary form of expression, can create a community? Well, each of us is a person who belongs to humanity, so in each of us there’s something shared or held in common with others, maybe with a few others, maybe with many, or maybe even with everyone else. When you speak as a poet, with that shared something, you’re speaking the ”us.” Even when you use the “I.” Even when it seems you’re speaking completely impersonally. As the philosopher Rocco Ronchi once said, “Communication…is not a form of transmission. At its root, communication means to create a common ground, to fasten together a community, even if it is a minority, and to give that community identity and recognizable traits. Communication is the creation of a sense of community.” Poetry does not communicate by transmission, it fosters commonality, founds a community. To quote the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: “[Jean-Paul] Sartre said one of the most horrific things ever uttered: ‘Hell is other people.’ («L’enfer, c’est les autres) What does that even mean, that hell is other people? In fact, I would say that other people are the true paradise. Doesn’t ‘other people’ include loved ones, neighbors—not just anybody? And I’m not only referring to lovers here, but also to relations, friends, the care of a neighbor, etc. Where would we be without others? Who would we be? Nothing. A hell.”


Rearrange the poetry books on your shelves.


Discover the books you forgot you had.


When you’re a new employee in a bookstore, the first day on the job you’re taught that you have to dust the books. Every day, when there aren’t many customers in the shop, you run a cloth over one, two, or three shelves and give them a good swipe. Romano Montroni, the founder of Italy’s Feltrinelli Bookstore chain, explained why, in his book Selling Souls: The Bookseller’s Profession. Montroni said that this is useful for memorizing each book, the author, the title, and a couple of sentences from the back cover. Similarly, if you have a few shelves of poetry books at home (and I certainly hope you do!), take the time every once in a while (maybe once a month?) to rearrange your books. You might reorganize them by author, or maybe chronologically, or by the colors of their spines, or by their size, or by when you bought them, or according to which ones you like the most or the least. This will help you (you’ll see, it works!) to find forgotten books, to resume interrupted readings, to read again passages you  haven’t looked at for ages, to discover that, just as you have changed over time, so have your books.


From Oracolo manuale per poete e poeti, @2020 by Giulio Mozzi and Laura Pugno, published by Sonzogno di Marsiglio Editori. Reprinted by permission of the authors. Translation from the Italian © 2022 by Zack Rogow.

Zack’s most recent book of poems, Irreverent Litanies

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Alison Luterman Guest Blog: How Long Does It Take to Finish a Work of Writing?

This is a guest post from poet, essayist, and playwright Alison Luterman

I was walking with a novelist friend in the woods the other day and she was telling me about how she’d had to tear apart the structure of her draft (which I’d read and loved), change the point-of-view of several characters, eliminate some extraneous material, and was now, basically, rewriting a very different book. I asked how she was feeling about it all.

 Oh, you know,” she shrugged. “At first I was pissed at my mentor for telling me my structure wasn’t working, and then when I accepted that she was right I was sad that I’d wasted so much time polishing that early draft, when I should not have been polishing it at all, I should have been restructuring it. Then I was overwhelmed with how much work I’d have to do to make this new draft work, and feeling doubtful if I could even pull it off. But now I’m into it, and one of the main characters is emerging as more twisted and interesting than he ever was before, and I’m enjoying getting to know him. This new book is going to have a very different tone than the draft you read. It’s going to be much darker. Actually, I'm loving working on it."

  I did know. My dear friend Leslie Absher just published her remarkable memoir Spy Daughter Queer Girl, a book she worked on for more than sixteen years. The layers of living and feeling and research and growth really show in the story. Sure, she didn’t think it would take that long when she embarked on this project, but she stayed with it and she stayed with herself and her own changes and the work shows the benefit of that patience and care and earned wisdom.

Alison Luterman

I’ve got students and writing clients who are concerned about this. They ask, How long does it take to get a book out? The answer, infuriating as it is, is “It takes as long as it takes.” Each of my books of poems has taken years longer than I thought it “should.” I always fondly imagine things are ready long before they are. I’ve sent out so many manuscripts to contests only to realize, five minutes after paying the thirty dollar entry fee and hitting Send, that it was really just a lump of raw dough rather than a fully baked loaf.

  On the other hand, sometimes lightning strikes and a poem comes out whole. The writer Ruth Stone contended that her poems came to her whole, like tornados on the horizon. She would sense one coming and run as fast as she could back to her house, in order to grab a pen and scribble it down. If she didn’t outrun the poem it would blow right past her.

  And Bob Dylan sometimes wrote three songs a day at the height of his powers. There was apparently a conversation between him and Leonard Cohen about writing. Cohen confessed it had taken him seven years and zillions of drafts to write “Hallelujah.” “How long did it take you to write ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’?” Cohen asked Dylan. “Ten minutes,” Dylan replied. So, there you have it!

Alison Luterman’s books include the poetry collections In the Time of Great Fires (Catamaran Press), Desire Zoo (Tia Chucha Press), The Largest Possible Life (Cleveland State University Press), See How We Almost Fly (Pearl Editions); and a collection of essays, Feral City (SheBooks). Luterman's plays include Saying Kaddish with My Sister, Hot Water, Glitter and Spew, Oasis, Touched; and the musicals The Chain (with composer Loren Linnard), The Shyest Witch (with composer Richard Jennings), and the song cycle We Are Not Afraid of the Dark (with composer Sheela Ramesh).

Zack’s most recent book of poems, Irreverent Litanies