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Dana Johnson

Book-obsessed twenty-something with a passion for poetry, hiking, and being happy with what I have.

Month

June 2014

Poets are real things – Go see them

It’s true. Poets are alive. They breathe, they eat, they slave away at their typewriters (what decade is this?) to make their soul-thoughts into real, tangible things we can hold in our hands, and spill coffee on. Sometimes, poets get up in front of people and say personal things about themselves, and read their poetry to strangers. Actually, they’re doing this a lot, and you should go watch them while they do it and maybe buy a book, and inconspicuously touch them shoe-to-shoe while they kindly write something silly in your copy like “good luck on YOUR poems.”

I started going to poetry readings in college, and got so hooked on them that I’m now willing to drive hours just to see poets I haven’t even read. The thing about writing is that it is highly personal… It’s something you do on your own, and sometimes, when you’re sitting in a dark room and contemplating how eerie it is that onions continue sprouting even in your pantry, it’s easy to forget that there are people out there doing exactly (well, probably not exactly…) the same thing you are. Sometimes I wonder if my writing lifestyle is disciplined enough, or if I spend enough time editing, or if any of it will ever get any easier. Listening to other poets read and talk about their work and lifestyle always inspires me, because it reminds me that there aren’t any real answers to these questions. Everyone is different.

Writers don’t just read their work… They answer questions, they tell us about their writing life. A couple of things I’ve learned:

Sofia Starnes is a ritualistic writer who takes a few quiet hours at night to work, but doesn’t write when she’s traveling.

And it’s normal for Tracy K. Smith to take breaks from writing poetry.

Yet, all the advice is telling us we need to practice our art everysingledaynoexceptionswhatesoever. Just do what works for you.

And what’s more, listening to poets read their work, on wonderful, rare occasions, can be so powerful that you forget to breathe for entire stanzas. Who wouldn’t drive a few hours for that?

 

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My Bucket List as of 6/17/14

Setting goals makes me excited, and putting them down on paper makes them feel more achievable. Below is my bucket list as of today. I’m sure it will continue to change, and I’m hoping that as the years go by, I can begin crossing some of these items off and creating bigger goals. I’m ready to get out in the world and make these things happen!

  • Pay off my car and student loan in 5 years or less/become financially independent of my parents
  • Visit India, the Ganges River
  • Backpack through Sequoia National Park
  • Backpack for a week straight, period
  • Establish myself as a writer (whatever that means)
  • Get published in literary magazines (poetry and academic writing, literary analysis)
  • Write and publish a chapbook
  • Write and publish a collection of poetry
  • Meet Richard Siken (or at least see him at The Pygmalion Festival 2014)
  • Survive for 6 months straight on freelance work alone
  • Road-trip the U.S./live in a vehicle
  • Live in Portland, OR
  • Start my own zine
  • Work full time as a poetry editor
  • Meditate regularly
  • Get paid to record an audio book
  • Read every piece of literature that T.S. Eliot refers to in The Waste Land and blog about my journey/experience/thoughts/analysis/etcetcetc
  • Practice writing in meter so thoroughly that it begins to come naturally
  • Master the art of scansion
  • Run a marathon

What’s on your bucket list? Do we have anything in common?

Critical Reading Post Graduation

Reading is important. I don’t think I should have to tell you, but if you want, you can read all about why herehere, and here. I graduated from college 6 months ago (wow), and one of the single greatest things was suddenly having the free time to read and write for leisure. I majored in English with a Creative Writing concentration (something I will never regret), which allowed me to focus the bulk of my time on literary assignments (<3), but left very little time (ie. none) to read the Tom Robbin’s novels in my nightstand.

Although I don’t have nearly the amount of free time I thought I would have, I will say that having the ability to read for pleasure again is truly liberating, and if you don’t pick up a book now and again, you absolutely should. Oddly enough though, I still haven’t finished Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. Instead, I’ve been reaching for The Great Gatsby, The Waste Land, and even the Heath Anthologies from my college days. I’ve been using this time to catch up on reading I should have done years ago, but the fact that I’m reading because I want to, and not because a teacher is telling me to, is so much more rewarding.

Although I most certainly read for fun (Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums was a fun one!), following college, I’ve primarily been reading as a way to keep learning. And although reading for pleasure is certainly noble, critical reading is perhaps even more beneficial. I like to read a fairly even amount of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and each genre serves a different purpose for me. When it comes to poetry especially, I like to dive deep into the book, beyond the words physically on the page. I like to spend my time making association maps to find connections between different poems and images in a collection. I like to note the similarities in style between different writers. I like to research the epigraphs and quotations. I like poems that lead me to other poems. And sometimes, I like to dive even deeper by writing about what I read (in my opinion, the most effective way to analyze a piece of literature is to write about it). And if I’m writing about a poetry collection, you can bet I’ve read it cover to cover at least 3 times. Doing this keeps my critical reading muscles in shape, helps me to focus on varying writing styles, and gets me motivated to work even harder on my own poetry.

I read nonfiction to keep me motivated (Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a great read for anyone struggling against resistance, ie. You want to write more than anything, but will do anything except write), and to keep me educated (I’m currently reading Autobiography of a Yogi, a great read if you have any interest in yoga, meditation, or Indian culture). The thing that’s really cool about reading nonfiction? You’ll always have something to talk about.

And fiction, I truly do read for pleasure and pleasure alone. I better bust that Tom Robbins out of my nightstand.

My point is that reading is an activity you should never stop doing. Read for fun, read for knowledge, read for personal growth.

Read books that challenge you, then read them again.

Want to see what I’ve been reading this year? Check out my reading list. What books have you been reading?

Why buy a Moleskine when napkins exist?

The cool thing about having writing as a passion is that you can do it for FREE. As long as you have some sort of writing instrument (ink, charcoal, blood?), you can write till you totally deplete your imagination (which will be never). The world is full of things to write on… Receipts, napkins, skin, etcetcetcetcetc.

So, then, why on earth do I spend twenty bucks  each on extra large, soft cover, blank page Moleskine notebooks? Is it so that I can look like a snobby Ann Arborite next to my composition book-toting peers? [No]. Is it so that I can trick myself into only writing high quality poems that are worthy of the over-priced notebook? [No, and also it wouldn’t work anyway].

The thing is, I don’t know why, but it just feels… right to keep writing in the same notebook. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It has a nice weight to it. The soft cover bends in a way that feels like a hug when I hold it against my chest (I need more friends). Opening up my black notebook during lunch breaks and in my evenings after work is a ritual. It’s part of my routine. And for me, it works. Typing into a Word doc or writing on a loose leaf of paper just isn’t the same. And although I feel a bit snobbish paying for a notebook when I could easily use the back of my hand, I will say that filling up a journal has it’s merits, and buying a brand new one always presents itself to me like a challenge.

I think there are some definite benefits to finding materials that work well for you. And the more comfortable you are while writing, the longer you’re likely to write. Find what works, and do it.

 

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