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Love Poems

LOVE POEMS: YOUR HANDS SAY BREATHLESS ROSE

The passion pouring through these poems comes from universes inside us. That passion has correlatives in the world, this we know. Do the beauteous beings around us notice what they elicit? From a look, a gesture, a spoken word to these songs the journey is mythic. The voice comes with total assurance and I’d be foolish not to embrace it.

The word “poet” derives from the Latin for “maker,” but I don’t make these poems. They need shaping, yes, but “making”? There’s nothing new under the sun, and neither are these songs. They draw on a modern and ancient energy that flows, sometimes hardly noticed, through the substrate of our lives. Their essence is made already. I simply find them.

I’m a swimmer. A wave overtakes me, or I fall into a turbulence. It’s a current, a tide, a loam, a moving forest, a magma, running hot and fast, rich in nutrients, a churning, swelling and sinking, with troubling and vivid stuff. Words spill through the chaos and I run into them and somehow grasp them. I throw the words back out into the ordinary world.

Those words are a jumble. My effort then becomes like that of a sculptor. The words contain a song, yes, and I must cull and arrange and whittle to find it. And many of the words are placeholders. I peer behind these and I’m sucked back into the current, grabbing at more words and throwing them up on the shore.

I’m blessed to have found this voice, or so I’ve thought. A character in one of my unfinished stories began writing these songs and that seemed a miracle. She insisted I become her scribe and this became my challenge. Chalcedony (Kal-SAID-’n-ee), the quartz family mineral, was her name, chosen for its sound. Later a friend revealed the mineral carries the meaning, mythologically, of “the pure, blue feminine light of truth.” The word “feminine” is a convention, of course, to indicate part of the psyche. Males know this blue light as well.

My life changes as I write these songs. Their clarity of vision brings the world into focus. When I look into another’s eyes, underneath the conversation I sense a tide, rising and falling, of all the passions humans have ever felt, all the passions we are capable of feeling. These poems connect us with our authentic selves.

It became the most ordinary thing, after a while, to write the unmapped territory of our passion. That’s what’s uppermost in several billion people’s hearts, maybe also for every animal, and for every plant and tree, and even for every rock.

Writing these songs is my proper, everyday role, as commonplace as washing my face or putting on shoes.

PREFACE from Clive’s upcoming book of poetry Love Poems: Your Hands Say Breathless Rose

Squish Boots

Squish Boots

Squish-bootsOpen this book and fall into a tumultuous world where each act sings, shouts and cries the full chorus of the unconscious. Matson uses kaleidoscopic images that infiltrate our work-a-day defenses and invite our deepest feelings and truths to surface – like taking a roller caster ride with an old sage/young boy, hair streaming white, knuckles clenched, eyes closed, laughing. And when you open those eyes – there – what do you see?

Conceived, designed, and produced by Gail Ford.

 

 

 

 

Information

published by: Broken Shadow Publications
ISBN: 0-9636156-2-9
LCCN:2001087637
format: perfect bound, 5.25 x 8.25 inches
numbered pages: 69
cover price: $15.00
cover graphic: William Blake
cover design: Catherine Dinnean

Contact the author to buy it.

 

Praise for Squish Boots

“Delightful and penetrating at the same time, these poems are a revelation.” ~ Susan Griffin, Author, Bending Home, Poems, Selected and New.

“…a study in consciousness, that amazing border or membrane between the mysterious world of the body and the world outside…”~ Marc Hofstatder, author, House of Peace

“…code words tear away the mask imposed by our society that wants to sterilize all tigerish souls into tepid, civilized behaviour and attitude.” ~ Will Inman, author, End of the Ceaseless Road

“There’s a wealth of feeling behind all this jazzy, sophisticated madness. I laughed and was very moved at the same time. It doesn’t happen very often. ” ~ Ruth Daigon, editor Poets on; author.

“This is a more complex and more sophisticated poetry …It makes one grow as a reader and as a poet…This poetry is best read aloud, to fully hear the lilt and boom of the work.” ~ M.C. Bruce, SWDuckling@AOL.com

 

Excerpts

Molecule Daisy

Mostly empty space, this molecule,
and I am standing on it.

A skeleton on the median,
fleshless and clean. Its support:
one molecule at pelvis, one at heel,
one at skull. A spray of grass
pokes through the ribcage.

I am doing one good thing,
balance check: going shopping.
A dollar in my pocket.

On a thin sidewalk of yellow leaves
people walk by, not looking.
Maybe if I smile at this one.
Maybe if I look away.

Any twig, flower or bit of dust
could fall out of the sky and
scrunch! I’m one bug squashed
through earth. Sieved by a sieve.

Roam the body: legs move,
insides work, back flat,
balance check. Float on a
miniscus of good feeling.

A gutter-grate rattles: bony
fingers twist at the bars.
A skeleton tries to climb up
from below, with a brown
string and three tomatoes.

Here comes a thought! Kick it
before it pulls me down.
Torn duct tape, holding flat
a printed yellow sign ~ away.
The bank and office building tilt.
Is this a backflip into the street?
Turn head to an angle. There.
Level stays level.

The world’s skin is one molecule
thick and I’ve got it
between my toes. Don’t trip.
Molecule meets molecule.

An upside-down world underneath the street,
balance check. Cherry pits, a working
elbow, burp, old carrot smell. Garbage
eats itself because it feels bad.

Dismembered daisies clutter sidewalks.
He loves me, she loves me not,
she loves me, he loves me not.
The world’s skin is a thin
scatter of yellow petals.

Air goes in the lungs gently.
Don’t breathe it out your back.

Keep below the asphalt! You cemetary
crawling with spiders and bones,
one molecule away. Balance check.

Mosquitos come from the river
with probosci extended. Molecules slurp.
Maybe if I smile at the next
face. Maybe if I say “Hello.”

One toe on the sidewalk, balance
check. One toe on a molecule.
A dollar in my pocket,
going to the market.

Walking on a daisy petal bridge
above a boneyard. Don’t fall in.

 

Shadow Traffic

Animals and trucks
move around in my body.

You don’t know what they are.
I don’t know what they are.

A gorilla with peaked head,
ship’s anchor with barnacled chains,
yards of cowshit on a flatbed,
a snake ball, getting fuzzy.

Fuzzier. If they were clear
I could shoot bull’s eyes,
or direct traffic over-under
at the cloverleafs.

Shadows rumble through bottom
groin and center chest. They move
through each other without pain.

Each one carries a load.

I don’t know what they are.
You don’t know what they are.

Clear and I could ride
a hayload into the meadow.
Clang out a cherry-red shovel
on the portable anvil.
No one could match the speed.

“We are finding that emotions
at some level enter into most
of what happens during the day.”

I’m walking in a wool and pigment
forest or maybe the city dump,
or a mall getting landscaped.

I don’t know. You don’t know.

Knee deep then neck high
in gray water, from the roof?
Peptides flowing over the top
of the expanding liver?

You don’t know. I don’t know.

I am a clear glass pane
with thoughts and actions
written so clearly
they are not written at all.

Can you see your next act?
You think your next thought
without looking. Without looking
I do my next act.

Animals and trucks
move around in my body.

On the Inside

On the Inside

On The Inside is a single poem in nine parts.

On-the-InsideInformation

published by: Cherry Valley Editions
ISBN: 0-916156-65-6
format: perfect bound, 5.25 x 8.25 inches
numbered pages: 67
cover price: $10.00
graphics by: David Kelso
photograph by: Naomi Schiff

 

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Praise for On The Inside

What I admire as I have in the past is [Matson’s] scope and fullness of significance…an important work. ~ Josephine Miles

[Matson] has produced a romantic poem, but one which a millimeter beneath the surface has a hard and burning core. With electric and jewel-like phrases he creates an everyday nonchalance that is startling and effective. ~ Sam Steward

Excerpt from On The Inside

The whole game is contained in one move.
And in the next. And in each move after.

Not desperate
we can search for outlines of decency
in ourselves and others, discover a decent human

who can do the fitting thing
as a being alive with other beings,
look to fill half-dreamt postures
with clear, rounded flesh, kind eyes
and spread, firm stance on the ground.

I’ve seen my legs lengthen underneath,
a range of feeling expand inside
and I know there’s nothing more beautiful
than a human with faculties alive,

I love the intelligent spark that flies
between eyes of siblings who feel the same
and I despise the scaly hands that prey
on us and make us dangerous.

The beast is inside us. Inside me.

Peel skin off muscle and bone,
turn flesh layers back
and I discover he’s half-grown inside
shooting nerves toward my soul.

Oh throw the beast out. Out.

Sort words apart,
this parasite’s from our own,
out the voice that speaks
in super-resonant tones.

Our head is our property and our proper task
is to know what’s in it, to own what’s ours
and to ask identity of foreign thoughts,
to assess which to defy and which to accept.

It’s our DNA that contains information for life,
our bodies and minds the strength
to stand open-eyed, with nostrils cleared
the strength to follow our noses
and smelling a rat’s nest
to sniff out the biggest stink.

And the rankest stench
comes from my own back,
from festering scabs and sores
on backs of those nearby!
How often have I felt limbs claw,
elbows shove others down and aside
as people scramble for positions on high,
who will soon all be equal in ashes?

Dean sharpens claws, his hawk’s eye
gleams for human prey as he calculates
when to dive into a stoop,
Nadine uses proper words to keep her elite pass valid,
Alvin turns on warmth if you’ve something to give.

The Iceman dies and lives by the score of the game,
X. clamberee to get rich,
Y. screwed her partner for gain,
Z. had in mind a honey voice,
Son listened to a dog.

With hopes on a distant haven
the crouched fighter perfects a modern stance
–and whose soldier is this, whose human?

Head a steel-sprung computer spinning through tapes
and flashing targets on inner gunsights,
legs angled in status of a tripod
and torso fuel source for lasers
that fire through whirlpool eyes.

Throw out over-competition. Out.

Not our definition of life, that it’s dog eat dog,
“Screw them before they screw you,”
not our definition of humans,
that it’s our nature to spew energy
in the clash of figurative swords:
the beast’s.

The beast defines us
away from our bodies, bends our minds
into loops and lamellar forms
that deny the whole body exists.

How can we be his dupes,
how be indecent if our bodies are the known,
shared common denominator of life on earth!

How glory in another’s death
if we’re able fully to imagine our own!

No whiff of niter or gangrene
reached B-52 cabins over Vietnam,
no formaldehyde corrodes noses of stockbrokers
dealing junkfood and healthcare in one portfolio,
nuclear companies’ dividend checks
probably don’t contain much plutonium.
Muggers’ necks don’t bleed at knife point,
rapers’ lips don’t part with screams,
when Oreo had Jerry wrapped around her finger
all she felt was the string.

This woman with petroleum-derived make-up,
artificial hair and no sweat,
would she be object to a male fantasy,
and what’s her choice?

This man with legs and shoulders
shaped to a triangle and no felt hormones,
is he a 20th century machine,
his head wired with whose voice?

Whose man is this? Whose woman?

Are we deluded
in a wish to escape our bodies
and push ourselves into alien shapes,
pick up the beast’s easy formulas
strewn glittering on foot-trodden streets?

Throw him out. Out.

Useless his flat images of jigsaw people,
painful to my body his narrow molds.

Who can fully conceal the feelings
contained within inches of our skin,
who could camouflage the child
runnin scare behin hostil eyes?

We do not hide. We come out human, whole,

not so different in what’s different
between our legs as the same,
with organs, head, four limbs, torso
and living sternum all shared.

Shared too the wish for a pleasant life,
shared the desire
that faces we meet have eyes not splintered
by the beast’s tooth, shared the wish
that we meet and create a net of actual friendship
I hold and am held in and give
back easily my own warm strength.

All shared!
Shared too our weaknesses,
shared the cacophony of voices
within our heads, shared my fear
that a phrase may disarm me
and the beast’s claw pushing at my chest
will twist me into a dumb actor
in the beast’s robot paradise.

Throw him out. Out.

Mainline to the Heart

Mainline to the Heart and other poems (2009)

mainline-newMainline to the Heart was originally published by Diane di Prima’s Poets Press in 1966, with an introduction by John Wieners. The book was confiscated by British Customs in 1968, and released a few months later. The poems had been judged “borderline pornographic”.

Mainline to the Heart and other poems was reissued by Regent Press, Oakland, on March 11, 2009. This new edition of Clive Matson’s early poems includes all of Diane di Prima’s “Poets Press” version — 1,000 copies were sold out in 1966-67 — and adds significant uncollected pieces from the same period.

At once obstreperous and innocent, these poems celebrate a place where emotion, sex, and religion come together with overwhelming intensity. In the fifties and sixties Beat Generation writers were revisiting this edgy, full-blooded romantic tradition and Matson joined the exploration with youthful energy. But the quest was fraught with tension.

To Matson’s heart and mind, the Beatific vision morphs into something as sinister as it is beautiful, sex is utterly consuming yet fosters hostility, emotion is an exhilarating current as dangerous as a tsunami, drugs are glorious and bring one to the brink of death. Writing these poems were a crucial part of a young person’s growth, as demonstrated by the open, accessible style. The poet’s overriding concern is understanding the self and the world. Be-bop and cool riffs, common in the Beats, are truncated or undercut in Matson’s work, to arrive quickly and precisely at the point.

Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems expresses a confluence of personal and historical forces. Clive Matson was coming of age at the same time the culture was at the height of its 1960s explosion. While the poems cast a sobering light on Beat exuberance, Matson’s vibrant imagery makes the personal, visionary, and sexual excitement impossible to deny. Steve Weltner writes, “These poems speak about desire with an exactitude too excruciating to be pornographic. The power of their eroticism has not diminished.”

Regent Press, 6020-A Adeline St., Oakland, CA 94705
Tel. 510.547.7602; Fax 510.547.6357; regentpress@mindspring.com.
Distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor

 

ISBN: 978-1587901393
format: perfect bound, 8.5 x 5.5 inches
numbered pages: 90
cover price: $22.00

 

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Praise For Mainline to the Heart and Other Poems

When Clive Matson’s Mainline to the Heart fell into my hands back in 1966, I inhaled it feverishly. I imagined I knew – in the now quaintly antique parlance of the day – where the poet was coming from. In essence a helpless and passionate romantic, Matson and his poetry zeroed in dead center on what pop-vernacular sang and was calling “The Big Hurt.” In every direction you looked, the world was in flames. Bursting and raging with a jaundiced innocence, Matson’s poems narrate one intimately harrowing season in hell. So lyrically well-preserved is this hell that, decades later, the touch and scent of its tenderness still hangs in this reader’s nostrils. These pages get it right. With a mentor like Herbert Huncke, junkie raconteur and Beat icon, to inspire him, how could Matson not sing to pitch-memory the funkiest of blues: the death-wish blues? The anger, excitement and longing for love you read about and hear and feel in these pages tell the true story of how we live now and the way some sensitive, aware Americans have lived for a long time. In a voice as strong as any official’s, Clive Matson’s poetry reminds us that love and love and love alone is enough to make us give shots in the dark to ourselves. The fever is still upon us.
~ Al Young, Poet Laureate of California

Our bias towards age (or “maturity”) makes it difficult to account for the bursts of intense illumination sometimes present in twenty-somethings. The riveting poems in Mainline to the Heart were produced well before Clive Matson turned thirty. The late John Wieners described them brilliantly when he wrote, “It is heroin and the blood he draws. It is not peace.” This book is not likely to persuade anyone to become an addict: it is hardly a pretty picture. But Mainline to the Heart is an enormously powerful evocation of a state of mind most people barely know exists. It is no accident that William Burroughs, another heroin addict, produced science fiction. To inject heroin is to inject a kind of science fiction of consciousness. Matson’s immensely disturbed hero tries to go about a “normal” life while fully aware that “We are all insane.” Robert Duncan called this book “butch.” It’s that, but it’s also what Baudelaire called “la conscience dans le Mal,” not consciousness of evil but consciousness in evil. “From the Abyss comes / a message that spells out our shape on Earth.” “I / open to the darkness my home.” “I see no exit / away from the Horror, / why not embrace it.”
~ Jack Foley

I discovered Mainline to the Heart in the stacks of a university library whose buyer for contemporary writing knew where to find nearly all the poetry being published in the States at that time, no matter how obscure the publisher or the writer, and arranged to have it placed on the shelves fast. I read lots poetry there for the first time. Some like Spicer or Olson or O’Hara would become well known, even famous later. Many others would disappear, and I too quickly forgot them myself. But Mainline to the Heart was stronger stuff. It wouldn’t let me forget it.

Almost forty years have passed since I read it last. I do not know how much my reading of it now has been affected by the feelings and thoughts it provoked in me then when I had read little like it and nothing so sexually exacting. Unlike so much writing by Ginsberg, for example, to which it might be superficially compared, it doesn’t pontificate or take on self-important poses. One never senses, as I do now re-reading a lot of the work of the `fifties and `sixties associated, say, with the Beats, that one is witnessing a performance.

“Naked,” like “raw” and other such words, is too easily used. “From the Abyss comes a message that spells out our shape on Earth,” Matson writes in “The Jungle,” and, in “My Love Returned,” “I see no exit away from the Horror.” “Abyss” and “horror” are words that risk their own sort of sentimentality, of course. They can appear to make important what is merely unpleasant. But in Matson’s poems, so many of which are truly exposed, bare of any protection (including that, still, of good taste), the horror is real. Joy is real too, in this work, but horror is more commonplace, in part because these poems speak about desire with an exactitude too excruciating to be pornographic. The power of their eroticism has not diminished, unaffected by time or the vagaries of style. “Love is possession,” Clive Matson writes, “and we possess each other on a bone level.” In these poems, those bones still live.
~ Peter Weltner, author The Risk of His Music

Mainline to the Heart traffics in sex, drugs, and sacrilege. Yet, for all of their decadence and obstreperousness, these are poems of innocence as well as experience. One senses the poet groping, without self-consciousness or shame, for an elusive vocabulary of salvation. When that vocabulary occasionally breaks through, the joy is palpable.
~ Hilary Holladay

In these poems of lust, compulsion, and “greedy warlock magic,” Clive Matson frankly celebrates the rough grace of youth. Somewhere between art that wants to be popular and art that’s proud of giving shocks is art that’s truthful. This volume proves that this poet was grappling with that golden mean at a tender age.
~ D. Patrick Miller, author of Instructions of the Spirit

When I first read Mainline to the Heart, it was a door. I went inside and swapped my MP3 player for an armload of jazz records. I didn’t miss my email account at all, and instead waited patiently for a single letter on paper. Spilling over with love or blithering with “fuck yous,” whatever. As long as it was handwritten, with the pen’s hard indentation on the other side of onion paper just as passionate as the words composed on the front. When the door slammed shut behind me, I didn’t care to go back.
The second time I read Matson’s manuscript, it was a trip on peyote. Telling me only the very essential, and then giving it flight, with wings the color of Indian batik under neon lights, loud and cacophonic as the treasured broken typewriter, and balmy as the aromatic mixture of di Prima’s ever-present stew, cigarette smoke and sweaty women wearing patchouli as anticipation.

The third time was the most miraculous of them all. At his strongest, Matson gets God alone in a room and starts asking questions. If only he hadn’t been hung-over at the time, he might have remembered God’s answers. At his most vulnerable, Matson begs only for love. He’s just like the rest of us.
Yes, the third time I read Mainline to the Heart was the most miraculous. It became a mirror.
– Elz Cuya, founder The Poetry Mission

The language of the poems is of the sixties, reflecting Allen Ginsberg’s transformation of poetic consciousness. The feelings are tough and drug-enhanced, steeped in existential despair. For the sake of art, the poet got himself hooked on junk. It was in the air.

His vision of woman is almost Baudelairean in the demands he places on her, in the evil he attributes to her. A claustrophobic projection of anger, desire and need permeate the poems. But the complex rhythms chronicling the swings in emotion resonate beyond the words to reveal the natural cadences of a poet.
John Wieners’ introduction intuitively grasps the essence of the poems. Is this love? If it is, it’s not peaceful.

For all his youthful nihilism, the Clive Matson I remember from those years had a gentleness of spirit that always kept me his friend.
~ Eila Kokkinen

This is a book of wild songs, of naked paeans to the American street and its tormented hungers: the wailing, chaotic lyricism of youth sung in the key of compulsive sexual frenzy – an orgasmic, rapturous celebration of lust, drugs and life. Clive Matson is an authentic maker: he has told the truth and shamed the devil! Raw, painful, explosive – this is a poetic document well worth having back in print.
~ Steve Kowit

“I’ve a disease called life / and it’s aching, what to / do with it,” Clive Matson appeals in Mainline to the Heart. These poems measure a young man’s relentless will for love, in spite of, and perhaps because of, all its terror and tenderness-love, the ultimate drug: “Can’t it keep me / high every night? / Every day? / Off and on.” The 20-something Matson wrestles with some tough questions in these poems – “words / someone will take as a drug and discover / a friend inside” – and to witness the Clive Matson of today is to witness answers hard-won and heart-won: “From the abyss comes / a message that spells out our shape on Earth.”
~ Marj Hahne

Excerpts from mainline to the heart

Teardrop In My Eye

Fuck you, Huncke.
Leave me
hung up for junk, waiting

alone in a dark room candles
you lit burn down in.
They unwind curls of smoke
like incense I remember we offered
weeks ago.
It is Nostalgia.

I treat you mean
and I get what’s coming
down on Lonely Street.
I walk amid cold winds,
leaves
rustle
while I blow.
No one to hold my hand.

Tompkins Park ~
a violet night sky looms,
one icy star in it. Is it
Venus?
And on 3 sides
fountains I see thru squinty eyes
squirt white geysers like cocks:
streetlamps seen thru tears.

Wish you were here
& cruise empty benches
for the familiar body.
What’s the use.

Turn a corner, God
I’m relieved! Gone the terror.
No more hairy lump between thighs or
mornings he slunk away
thru dawn’s pale blue light as
as I reach long arms
for hugging.
& grasp a rumpled blanket.

I hoped for joy.
Why did he go?
This affair started with a smile that
opened caverns in his skull
When he gave me a blue china bowl.
For weeks after

we took off

together jiving our way along
for outer space as
only we can. Will we
space out once more.

Have I got heart for it,
Now I’m free I can
go to Chatham Square a vulture,

follow the fading rumors he left
behind with me. & these memories
I would live again.

 

My Love Returned

The Moon rises
ass heavy: on the wane.
Wish it was full.

I dream &
a huge bat wing arcs over skeleton buildings
and dips to touch ruby pinprick traffic lights
on the street’s horizon in mute salute,

when I take in another block
the black wing blacks out the lights
and I know it is the Vampire,
my love returned
in the city calling me to bed
with faint irresistible siren
over the cool line of telepathic desire
or echoing “could be” to my need

broadcast live out dewy eyes, glib tongue
and come-on slouch for months.

How does she know? How the seasons change
and my veins hold new blood for her to suck now,
new blood I can bleed

over the white & untried bed
and my teeth are white and sharp to eat with.
Now I brim over with come to shoot in her,
I flap my jaw
and smile goofy at strangers
in the fullness of it.
Glad I’ll kill myself
& build a life with her. Glad
I’ll gaze into the wide blue eyes
I cannot fathom.

Not Christine not Huncke
not Martha could take her place.
I loved each and let each loose
the beautiful face no matter or
how strong my yearning ache,
Cut off
at dangerously hot by a circuit breaker
or fanned to blistering flame so
she turned cold shoulders in disgust,

Useless to give my all when it’s already given
to end lying anguished mornings on the same wrinkled sheet,
some yellow belly demon inside calculating
to save me for the One
or can I love at all?

Hear dark silence for the answer
& I’ve torn up the map, all highways
lead to the same dead end where
I see no exit
away from the Horror,
why not embrace it.

Love is possession
and we possess each other on a bone level
I don’t understand but we keep
a dim promise of happiness alive
or magic descends from the ceiling
& days light up now and then like sparkling incense,

I do what I want with her
as nuptial joy lifts toward bliss
that can not come true
and will carry me
thru boredom, fighting, anguish
the same scene repeated endlessly
1966, 1969, 1975 as
over the years
Time binds us tighter together
in orbit around our asteroid or lovely room
where we are each other’s parasite
and no friend in sight,
where we’ll die
within the same few seasons fatally wounded
our better half destroyed

or God insert the drug, body, faith
can bridge to the old dream she devours
& I love a spirit of the Dead.

Let the Crazy Child Write! – 6

Chapter One – Image Detail – Practice

This writing practice is a suggestion for developing your familiarity with image detail. Read the entire section before you start writing, just as you did with the exercise section. The practice isn’t designed, anyway, to be done on the spot. You might want to spend an hour or two doing the practice or several hours over several days.

As practice, write a second interview, and this time select someone with an interesting hobby or job. Spend more time with your interviewee, look closely at the hobby or job, and write five pages or so — you can write more, of course.

The type of person you choose to interview is important. It could be the person from your exercise, especially if that person’s hobby or job deals with physical objects. The more tactile elements your senses have to feed on, the more material you will have for making vivid details. A weaver, a microbiologist or a car mechanic are all good subjects. So are a dancer or a farmer or a stamp collector. There are millions of good subjects.

Take the reader on the same journey you take for the interview. Give the reader a picture of the front door, the person, the workbench, the sounds, the smells — anything that strikes your senses. Proceed through the interview showing details in the same order that you notice them, or in the same order that they happen. Include what the person says in greeting — and include any odd things the person says.

New Journalism

When you write those odd details, you give the reader the feel of the person, the place, and the work — even the joy or the adventure or the agony of it all. This is “new journalism,” also known as “literary journalism.”

Technically, new journalism is journalism that uses story techniques. Old-style journalism simply lists the information. For purposes of Let the Crazy Child Write! new journalism takes the reader on the same journey the writer makes to find the information.

Take the reader on the same journey you make to find the information.

Barry Newman does just that in his article “Fisherman.” We see the farm, its surroundings, and the man coming out to greet us, just as he does:

Leigh, England — Kevin Ashurst’s maggot farm — a cinder block shed attached to an air scrubber — is a mile outside this old mill town, in a field of pink wildflowers.

” Looking for work?” a tattooed man calls when a visitor drives up on a hot morning. In the yard, some dead sheep nourish a new generation of bluebottle flies. Two workers, bent over the carcasses, scoop the maggots into plastic tubs. The smell is about as bad as a smell can get.

Ashurst, a meaty man of 43, wipes his hand on his dungarees to clean off the offal, and extends the same hand in greeting. Then he reaches into a tub and brings up a sample of his finest produce — most, white and writhing.

” See, that’s the size of ’em, like,” he says. “Them’s good maggots, quality maggots. They’ll keep like this for a week in the ‘fridge.”

Who keeps maggots in the ‘fridge? Coarse fishermen do. Kevin Ashurst sells maggots to coarse fishermen. He’s a coarse fisherman himself, and a good one. Coarse fishermen bait their hooks with maggots to catch coarse fish — like barble, dace, bleak and roach. Coarse fish live in murky waters, are mostly tiny and make awful eating. Game fishermen, who catch salmon and trout, think of them as vermin. Some think the same of coarse fishermen.

Until about ten years ago, British upper-class fishermen succeeded in keeping the upper-class fish to themselves. The working class had to fish in abandoned gravel pits and industrial canals. The sport wasn’t refined, but it was diverting enough, once money got involved.

The author puts the reader in his shoes as he learns about coarse fishing. Quoting the owner gives the reader a sense of who he is, and the smell brings us right into the scene. When you do your interview, however, you may choose something that smells good.

New journalism is what Newman employs in the first four paragraphs. By paragraph five, he slips into old-style journalism and simply lists information. He shows us that the line between the two genres is not rigid.

Alternatives

There’s no reason to limit your interview to a person: this practice also works when you interview a place. One writer chose to spend a night in a hospital, as part of her job, and reported what the experience was like. You could interview a restaurant, a golf course, a nightclub — you name it.

You can also pretend you are a stranger interviewing yourself. This is a challenge because you will need to see yourself through a stranger’s eyes. What would someone see when meeting you for the first time? For the same reason, interviewing a friend is complicated. You may know your friend too well, and you’ll need to concentrate on imagining you are seeing your friend for the first time.

Show, don’t tell.

Remember to show us the details, don’t simply tell us about them. This directive is universal among writers. If an author writes that someone has a handsome face, I know the face is not ugly. Since there are six billion people on the planet, the writer has described some three billion of them. That’s too many! I see only a handsome blank or something the writer did not have in mind.

But if the writer shows me a detail, I can see the face. Remember the pearly scar on the lover’s neck, or the shell-like crack in the blue plate, or the gum in the boss’s ashtray? Go for the small, the odd, and the dissonant. If you do use a general adjective, like “handsome,” be sure to back it up with image detail.

As you work, follow the trail of details. Be exact, and do not worry about the effect. The more odd or dissonant or flamboyant your details are, the more freely your Crazy Child is writing. The wilder you write, the more you stand to learn about your own creative unconscious — and the more likely your writing will be truly vivid.

Let the Crazy Child Write! – 5

Chapter One: Image Detail – Workshop

A workshop consists of two or more like-minded people who give each other feedback. You read your exercise to them, and they give their responses. They then read their exercises in turn, and the rest of you respond.

On pages xvii-xix I outlined several ways to start a workshop. Three is a good number of people for beginning a workshop, and five or six is ideal. But you can also do a workshop with just one other person.

The Syngenetic Workshop

” Syngenetic” means having the same origin. When the feedback has the same origin, as nearly as possible, as the impulse of the writing, then it can assist in improving the writing. Workshops are most successful when writers understand each other, and respect the thrust of each other’s writing.

This understanding may be achieved by following a few simple ground rules. I call them “kindergarten rules,” because they seem childlike, but they are deceptively difficult to follow.

  1. Author hands out copies and reads the work. Workshop listens and takes notes.
  2. Workshop reads over copies a second time, quietly, and makes further notes. Author is silent.
  3. Each member of the workshop says what lines are memorable, repeats the words verbatim, and says why they are effective. Author takes notes.
  4. Workshop discusses the dynamics of the piece: What happens? What is the conclusion? What does a particular image convey? Author does not speak. Author listens and takes notes.
  5. Workshop makes one or two rewrite suggestions, three at most. Author takes notes.
  6. Author speaks. Workshop responds.

The dynamic of the syngenetic workshop keeps everyone’s attention on the writing itself — and on feeling the writing to its roots. If you follow the rules precisely, you will be guided into the writing with a clear mind. You need to know what the writing is about. The goal of the syngenetic workshop is to further the primary impulse of the writing.

Since the Crazy Child or creative unconscious is largely unknown, by definition, you may not have a clue how to hear someone else’s writing. The group may be equally clueless about yours. These are reasons why the rules should be respected. Groups also lose the ability to comprehend someone’s writing, because — without anyone wishing it — they develop an exclusive aesthetic.

For this first session, since you have written a rough-draft interview during the meeting, it is necessary to give only positive feedback. Guard against subtle criticisms that masquerade as compliments, as, “I like this, but something didn’t work.” You will benefit if you practice giving — and receiving — clear, positive feedback with no “buts.”

Read Out Loud and Take Notes

Read to your workshop, slowly and loudly, what you have written. If the piece is short, read it a second time. The workshop will not have copies of what you wrote a few minutes ago, so they must hold the piece in their minds. Reading it a second time will give them a chance to understand it more fully. When you are finished, the workshop should take a few moments to absorb what you have written.

The workshop then identifies which image details are most vivid. This is positive feedback, and, following the syngenetic model, they should repeat your words back to you. Take careful notes, indicating each detail they point out. You might underline the words or use exclamations points in the margins or squiggles or stars — whatever makes sense to you.

While the workshop is talking about your piece, you should remain silent. This is an essential kindergarten rule. You should remain silent until they are completely finished, and they might need as much as ten minutes. It is absolutely not useful to discuss or counter their feedback. The workshop’s attention and yours should stay — entirely — on what others get from your writing. If someone raises a question about the text, let others provide the answer or try to. You take notes.

There are, however, two cases when asking questions is fair. The first case is if you do not understand the words that are being spoken. You should ask that those words be repeated or be explained. The feedback should naturally be expressed in words you can understand.

The second case is when the feedback is vague. It is only slightly useful to hear that your details are effective. For example, someone might say, “Your description of the boyfriend is interesting,” but this doesn’t tell you which phrases are working. Was it the description of his face or of his jacket or of how he was moving? It’s to your advantage to ask for verbatim feedback. The workshop should try to recall your exact words.

The Author’s Job

You have an important job as you listen to the workshop. Your job is to believe the praise. The workshop is being honest, and their positive feedback is probably accurate. As you work with Let the Crazy Child Write! trusting the workshop’s positive feedback may be the single most important thing you do. When someone says an image detail is vivid or gripping, indicate that with a note on your copy, and believe it. Do not leave this crucial task to your memory.

The workshop is a mirror for your writing. Their praise reflects what you are doing well, and it is valuable information about your Crazy Child. You find out in the workshop how effective your Crazy Child is. This is not something you can learn on your own.

Often we have banished the Crazy Child from our minds. We may even have forgotten that we have a creative unconscious. This is no surprise, for we are trained from an early age to hide it. The Crazy Child does not help us in school or with our parents, and it does not go over well at work — quite the opposite.

We also train ourselves to discount the Crazy Child. You may think the details you write are dull or boring or simply not of interest to anyone — and these judgments may be totally inaccurate. Most likely they are ways of discrediting the Crazy Child. If the workshop likes those same details, it is a lead-pipe cinch your negative judgments are in error.

The exercises will put you in a positive relationship with your Crazy Child. And when you believe the praise of the workshop, you counter the negative thoughts of your internal Editor. You are joining in honoring your creative unconscious and you are giving yourself access to its energy. You are encouraging your Crazy Child to come out and play.

The Listener’s Job

When another workshop member is reading, your job is to listen. Listen carefully for image details that snag your attention. When one does, a picture will form itself in your mind, and you may find yourself dwelling on the detail even after the author has gone on.

Listening is an art. To do it effectively, you must clear your mind, because any preconception will get in the way — any preconception whatsoever. You are not to judge whether the writing is up to par, and it is a good idea to forget that writing is supposed to do anything. You should report the effect of what you hear — nothing else.

Make your mind a blank slate or imagine your mind is an empty screen. As words are read, the image details will light up on the screen. Remember those images that are clear or striking or hold your attention for a while. All you have are words, and the responses of your nervous system.

Another way to listen is with your body. Listen inwardly for little twinges or small intakes of breath or slightly nervous feelings. You could imagine your entire nervous system is a clean plate, and report what sticks to it. Just as some food will remain on a plate tipped at an angle, only those strong or forceful images will stay in your mind.

However you do it, listening is not easy, and there are no rules for predicting vivid details. No one knows in advance what details will be the most vivid. This is especially true when a person is reading for the first time. Each reader is a new entity, each reader sets up a different context, and each set of image details is new territory.

The main thing is to notice, as you hear them, which image details are the most powerful. These details were probably chosen by the Crazy Child, and they are likely to feel strange to the author — which is why the listener’s job is important. The most powerful details could be impulsive, wacky, bizarre, finely textured, perfect, or ethereal. There is no formula for what the Crazy Child does well.

Once you identify the vivid details, repeat them to the writer. It’s ideal if you repeat the words verbatim. Then it will be obvious to everyone, even to the author, that those words are powerful — because you remember them. It is also valuable to take notes. This is not cheating. You are reminding yourself which details are vivid, and when the author is finished, you can refer to your notes to repeat the author’s exact words.

Let the Crazy Child Write! – 4

Chapter One – Image Detail

Exercise

You do not need any particular skills to do this exercise. You need only be able to write words. You can be a through-and-through beginner otherwise, and do it very well. And, if you are a beginner, you have the advantage of approaching Let the Crazy Child Write! with an open mind.

You may be more practiced than you realize. Many people who think of themselves as beginners are, in fact, quite experienced. Any kind of writing is invaluable experience, including brochures and business letters. You have to push words out your body and onto paper, and you cannot do this without learning how words work together.

If you are an absolute beginner, you have a fresh mind. You may have a few ideas about what constitutes powerful writing, but those ideas are preconceptions that can restrict the Crazy Child, and your creative flow. The fewer preconceptions you have, the more you may learn from Let the Crazy Child Write!

In the next section I will describe an exercise and present several ways to approach it. Read the entire section before you begin. An idea or a phrase in it somewhere could be what you start with, because it excites your Crazy Child. You stand to write powerfully anytime your creative unconscious is engaged. And you’ll have fun in the process.

Interview

An effective way to practice seeing and writing image details is to interview of someone. A relative or a stranger will do, as well as a friend, or someone in your workshop — while it is meeting. You can also pretend to interview yourself. Write for fifteen minutes or so.

For fifteen minutes or so, ask questions and take notes, copious notes, even if they don’t seem to go anywhere. Watch for details that snag your attention. People will always manifest something interesting. They will say something appealing, or there will be something arresting on their person like their earrings, the design of a T-shirt, a hairstyle, some highly articulated muscles, an object in a pocket, or a mannerism — something.

You and your Crazy Child are on a treasure hunt. This hunt is special, because you do not know what the treasure is. You may not recognize it even when you stumble upon it. You will likely not know until you read the exercise over later and realize that some detail has brought your subject clearly back to mind.

The trail to the treasure could start anywhere. It may start with something the person says or a piece of jewelry or the gum that your interviewee is chewing — follow whatever trail you find yourself on. Write a lot of details, especially those that are odd, novel, or intriguing.

Truth or Fiction

In this exercise it does not matter if you write falsehoods or truth, and it does not matter where you find the details. They may be entirely in your imagination, or they may be in front of you waving flags. Your task is to notice vivid details and to write them.

You could write exactly what your interviewee says. All of it might be very interesting. Or you could change a detail here and there as you go along, or later, when you write up your notes. You could add a plethora of new details, either way. You can be as extreme as you like.

If your interviewee is chewing gum, and that reminds you of your boss, follow that thought. Why not make your subject the boss or the boss’s secretary? Or if your interviewee’s green bracelet reminds you of the jade-colored carnation in the boy’s mouth, follow that trail. What did the boy do next? Or what did you want him to do?

Writing Your Notes

When you’re done, look over your notes. You will discover, hidden or obvious, the trail you were following. Take another fifteen minutes to flesh it out. Be free, wild, and extravagant as you write. Do a portrait or, if the spirit moves you, write a story, poem, play, or essay.

Relax and write whatever you like. It’s best if you don’t try to write a perfect piece — or anything near perfect. This is an exercise, meaning you are developing a skill, not necessarily creating a product. You also don’t have to be accurate to your interviewee.

Write whatever truth or fiction you find most interesting. “Interesting” does not have to mean upbeat or exciting. It may be most interesting that the interviewee reminds you of your wacky aunt. Perhaps they both have car parts in the living room, and one day a weird thing happened on the way to the kitchen sink.

This exercise provides practice in seeing details. You are letting your Crazy Child do much of that seeing, and every Crazy Child has its own unique way. But there is no telling in advance what your way is. Put those image details on paper, lots of them. You are venturing into new territory.

Let the Crazy Child Write! – 3

Chapter One – Image Detail

Discussion

” Without…playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.”
— Carl Jung, Psychological Types

We begin with “image detail” because it’s essential for strong writing, and because it’s fun. Every moment of our lives we are surrounded by sensory information — the stuff of image detail. Your Crazy Child delights in it.

An image detail is that small part of an image that sticks in our minds. The worn green fabric on the end of a diving board, the pearly scar on a lover’s neck, a piece of chewed gum in the boss’s ashtray — these are image details. We remember the object, or the person, or the feeling of the entire scene from one detail.

The details that catch your attention in life are the same ones that catch your attention as a reader, and the same ones that work for you as a writer. Much of the adventure of writing is discovering which details are most gripping for you, the observer. As you look around, some details will strike your eye, and some of those will tug at your breastbone.

You are starting a journey and it is filled with fascinating images. What about that boy leaning out of a car window with a green carnation in his teeth? What about that peculiar interview with your boss? Maybe her eyes teared up, and at the same time she unwrapped a fresh piece of gum.

Writing is largely a matter of paying attention. You need to see, hear, taste, feel, and smell details in order to write them. You might notice them instantly and choose them in a snap — because they rise unbidden from your unconscious. Or you might turn a scene over and over in your mind, getting to know it well, before you find the appropriate detail.

Either way is fine. Whether you write slowly or rapidly is simply a signal of how your Crazy Child works. It’s the part of you that feels. Those twinges and gasps are from your creative unconscious, from your Crazy Child. So are the sharp, brittle facts that come from deep inside with an utter clarity, the ones you know must be true.

The goal of Let the Crazy Child Write! is to help you establish a working relationship with your creative source. In this chapter you will be introduced to your Crazy Child, and you will become familiar with the kinds of details it sees.

How Image Detail Works

Small details provoke our minds to fill in the entire picture. Especially effective are odd or dissonant details. We remember the experience of diving when we remember the worn fabric of the diving board under our toes. We see the entire blue plate when we remember a shell-shaped chip on its edge.

These small, dissonant or odd details work because of the close attention that is required to see them. You need to be quite near the plate to notice that shell-shaped chip in the first place. You can do this by moving close physically or by zooming in with your imagination. The reader, by taking in your words, comes as close to the object as you are.

If you write that you had your elbow on the boss’s table when you saw that gum in the ashtray, the reader imagines being in that same position. If you write that you see a pearly scar when your cheek is on your lover’s shoulder, the reader’s cheek is there too. The reader’s nervous system is automatically present, and fills in the scene as the words are read.

This picture-making might sound rare or exotic, but it is neither. Picture-making is automatic in every human being. It is the job of the human imagination to make images. By “imagination” I mean more than simply dreaming something up willfully. I mean the automatic imaging process that goes on beneath our awareness.

Creating and processing images — sensations, feelings, thoughts, observations, memories — goes on all day and all night. We might notice images only a few times during the day or in the morning when we remember a striking scene from a dream. But our imagination is always busy.

An old saw about a three-legged dog states, “You can’t imagine a three-legged dog running.” But as soon as you read that sentence, your nervous system contradicts it — you do see that three-legged dog. And it’s running. The dog is ridiculous, clumsy, endearing, inspiring, or even oddly graceful.

You have at this moment demonstrated how the human nervous system works. Your nervous system began to register the three- legged dog, and your Crazy Child made an exact picture. Your nervous system and your Crazy Child did their everyday job. You were stimulated by an odd detail — the dog with a missing leg — and your imagination filled in the picture.

Powerful Image Details

I have already talked about small and odd details. “Small,” however, does not necessarily mean physically small. An image may be small only in comparison to the larger picture. On the roof of a Los Angeles nightclub is a neon martini, and in the martini is a blinking pink olive. That olive may be two feet across, but it is small compared to the cocktail glass.

Any picture that the reader can complete by imagining part of the body is also powerful. One writer uses hands to convey an image when she says the afterglow of lightning “looks like fingers poking down from the sky.” I instantly imagine my fingers hanging down.

The shape and motion of the fingers mimics the shape and motion of the lightning. The technical word for this comparison, using the word “like” or implying its use, is a “simile” (pronounced sim-i-lee). A simile works when the image and reality both contain a similar feature. Both “simile” and “similar” come from the Latin similis, meaning “like.”

Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn” is almost a cliche‚ because it has been quoted so often. It’s widely quoted in the first place because it’s so appropriate. Long, thin clouds stretched across the dawn sky do look like fingers tinted with a rosy color, and the fingers reach into the day. The image fits the event.

We feel anything strongly that relates to the body. The body is, after all, where the nervous system resides, and any detail that in some way touches the body becomes vivid. When we hear of children in our cities moving their beds out of the line of gunfire, we see this clearly — very clearly. We do not have to be there.

We imagine the scene. We move the bed, with the child, in terror or in a nightly numbness. We imagine the bullets angling through the window, we hear the thudding sound and see the shards of glass — our nervous system makes sure we do this. We see the entire scene, just as we see the three-legged dog, loping awkwardly down the street.

Images Other Than Pictures

The term “image” applies to any sensory impression, and every sense receives and creates images. A particular smell is an image, a sound is an image, a taste is an image, and so is any particular touch. There is also an important sixth sense — the kinetic sense — that gives us images of motion and momentum.

So far I have discussed images as visual impressions — images that we see with our eyes or imagine with our mind’s eye. Images from our other senses work in the same way. Small, odd, and dissonant details are vivid, and so are details that relate to the body.

” What is there, then, about place that is transferable to the pages of a novel? The best thingsþthe explicit things: physical texture. [Stories]…need the warm hard earth underfoot, the light and lift of air, the stir and play of mood, the softening bath of atmosphere that give the likeness-to-life….” EUDORA WELTY, Place in Fiction

Repeated Image Detail

It may be powerful to repeat an image detail. This is especially true if the detail is changed slightly when it reappears; it has a way of adding meaning to itself.

I have already repeated a few details, on pages 1, 2, and 3. That chewing gum in the boss’s ashtray might mean more on page 2 than when you first read it. It might be disgusting, instead of a curiosity — it has accrued feeling with repetition. You can forge a unique sensation by repeating a detail in a story, poem, essay, or play.

Image Detail in Stories

Linda Cohen uses image details in the following excerpts from her novel-in-progress about early twentieth century immigrants. We can read how revealing her details are, and also, when she repeats them, how they gain power. One of her characters, Rose, has just met Sal in the restaurant where Rose is waitressing:

She finally looked up into the man’s broad face. He smiled at her and a reddish-brown scar formed a little diamond under one of his eyes.

She looked away as she spoke, outside the front door as it opened again. “We have very good hamburgers here.” All that hair he has is frightening, she thought. I’ve never seen anyone looks so much like he came right from the animals. Darwin was right. Except this man came direct from a bear.

Rose pushed past the cook’s station through the swinging doors and into the bathroom. She put down the toilet seat and sat on top of it.

The reddish-brown scar that makes a diamond is an excellent detail — small and odd. It brings me right next to Sal’s face. Cohen also shows us Sal’s hairiness, and in the last sentence, shows an odd detail about Rose. When Rose sits on the toilet seat, it’s a purposeful action: she is using the bathroom as a place to be alone and think.

…it’s so hard to be a waitress and think at the same time. She put up their orders, then rushed over to where the cereal was and poured out two bowlfuls and a pitcher of milk. She carried it all on a tray to Sal. His legs were stretched out onto the seat of the chair across from him, and he was reading the newspaper again.

” I’m sorry I took so long with your cereal.” Rose extended her neck to see the newspaper open to the business section, with a banner at the top of the page that read: “Coolidge Prosperity: Unemployment Way Down/Production and Consumption at an All-Time High.”

Notice how the phrase “extended her neck” gives you a precise feeling about Rose, and also about her relationship to Sal. It’s a small, odd, physical action, and others will follow:

…Sal sat up straight and confident as he poured milk into his second bowl of cornflakes. He took a spoonful of cereal and watched it move toward his mouth. The scar under his eye formed a little diamond again….

There’s the scar again, and in the next excerpt two new details appear. The reader is becoming acquainted with Sal one detail at a time, just as you do in life. Both the reader and Rose get to know Sal at an equivalent pace:

A sharply chipped tooth peeked out from the side of Sal’s mouth. He was smiling at her with wide open eyes, his long eyelashes nearly touching the eyebrows on his low forehead….

He took Rose’s hand, wrapping his big fingers around her smaller ones….With her free hand Rose fidgeted with the narrow brim of her hat. She let her other hand hang limp in Sal’s, unsure of what to do next. His hand felt bumpy and hairy, like a paw.

Sal’s hairiness has become a singular attraction and it comes up again, bearlike and sexy. The next image gives another detail we can relate to our bodies:

…Rose’s bloomers and waitress skirt were hidden underneath her coat as it flapped against her calves….

The reader gains a sense of the styles of that time. As we stand with Rose, we can feel the wind on bare calves. Rose and Sal then go to a social meeting:

” How do you do, all of you.” Sal gave a little salute with his hand and took a slurp of coffee.

Edmund, the college graduate, took a sip of black coffee from his cup, then set it down so loudly and casually on the saucer it nearly spilled.

Sal’s wariness and Edmund’s uneasiness are displayed as they drink coffee. Next Rose and Sal are outdoors, and we read details about their bodies, shadows, the air, and a leaf:

” But you embarrassed me.” The breezes were coming out of nowhere, finding the only bare skin on Rose’s neck.

” Your Mama doesn’t go for Italians?” Sal grinned and glanced over at Rose’s house, then he moved away from the streetlamp until he was under a tree. The shadows of leaves bounced around his face and coat.

” Rose, you’re a beauty. I saw it right away. I’ve gotta tell you that.” Sal reached up and pulled a leaf off the tree. He began ripping it apart.

We see a new facet of Sal as he tears up the leaf and we see the tree anew, just as we would in life. Throughout these excerpts Cohen brings us next to the characters and directly into the scenes. Her details have this effect because they are small, odd, and dissonant.

Imaginary Image Detail

Image details that you imagine work just as well as those you see. Cohen was born after the days of Rose and Sal, so she could not have seen the details she writes. They are from her imagination, but that doesn’t make the process of finding them any different.

Cohen must imagine the scene so deeply that the details come alive, and then she must write them down. Or she could have gone to a restaurant in present time, seen someone remarkable, and given his characteristics to Sal. In both cases, writing vivid details is a matter of seeing.

Image Detail in Poems

Image detail is basic. It works at the automatic level of the nervous systemþin any form of writing. It works in poems, plays, and essays just as it does in Cohen’s novel. The only difference is in the play of the imagination: you might go to a more inventive place when you write poems.

An example is on page 69 of this book. When Mary Oliver writes, “the clear pebbles of the rain / are moving across the landscapes,” she creates a fanciful image. It conveys a magical, bell-like sense of the scene.

On pages 81-82 Christopher Russell recounts that the poet “becomes brittle and suddenly / collapses in a pile of shards, / like a ming vase dropped on a garage floor.” We feel the poet’s disintegration with all the impact of a precious object hitting cement.

When Sharman Murphy observes on page 31 that she “cracked my elbow / scraped my arm / I ripped my shorts,” we get an ample sense of the event. This works especially well because these details come after she has averted the accident. She didn’t have time, earlier, to notice her abrasions or her torn clothes.

In the love poem on page 32, when Michael McClure writes “your backbone line,” I am drawn into the special state of mind which saw that detail. It’s a detail that would be seen with an attentive, appreciative eye — a lover’s eye.

Image detail, in these examples, has filled in the scene, brought us deeper into each piece, and made the poet’s point more lucid.

Image Detail in Plays

Plays benefit from image detail in two important ways. As a playwright, you can describe your scenes and your characters in a detailed fashion. You can dress your characters, give them mannerisms or funny tics — whatever you like — and you can give them revealing things to do as they speak.

If Cohen’s novel were a play, for instance, Sal could tear up that leaf on stage. The playwright could set it up quite simply:

Sal: Rose, you’re a beauty. I saw it right away. I’ve gotta tell you that.
[Sal reaches up and pulls a leaf off the tree. He begins ripping it apart.]

The audience gets to see, live on stage, what Cohen presents to our imagination. I am using the same words she uses, changing them to present tense.

A second important place for image detail is in the speeches. Almost any character’s speech can be expanded to include sensory details that are natural to that character’s style. You have a lot of leeway; audiences are hungry for detail. As you include image detail, the audience will find the scene enriched and the characters deepened.

Image detail can make a story powerful, and your characters probably know this. In these speeches from Sam Shepard’s play Buried Child, physical details add texture and impact:

Vince: …What is this anyway? Am I in a time warp or something? Have I committed an unpardonable offence? It’s true, I’m not married….But I’m also not divorced. I have been known to plunge into sinful infatuation with the Alto Saxophone. Sucking on number 5 reeds deep into the wee, wee hours….
Halie’s Voice: Good hard rain. Takes everything straight down deep to the roots. The rest takes care of itself. You can’t force a thing to grow. You can’t interfere with it. It’s all hidden. It’s all unseen. You just gotta wait ’til it pops up out of the ground. Tiny little shoot. Tiny little white shoot. All hairy and fragile. Strong though. Strong enough to break the earth even. It’s a miracle….

The image of sucking on those reeds lets the reader imagine Vince late at night. And Halie’s description of those hairy roots, in their various aspects, give us a feeling of mystery and power.

Image Detail in Essays

This chapter is an essay. The first details I used were the fabric on the diving board, the scar on the lover’s neck, the gum in the ashtray, and the green carnation in the boy’s mouth. They display how we fill in a scene from a single detail.

My intent is to present a scattershot of images, hoping one will hook you. I’m concerned specifically with words and their relationship to our nervous system and to the Crazy Child. The beauty of this topic is — since you’re reading words — the dynamic can be demonstrated as you read. Perhaps the scar or the gum aroused your interest.

Not all topics provide an arena so rich in relevant details. You may have to search for useful ones. Minor points may be easy to illustrate, as in the next paragraphs. I use cat scratches on a couch, a Naugahyde cushion, a penknife, ions on a light bulb — and ask which of these details are the most powerful.

My broader point is to demonstrate that your Crazy Child knows instinctively about seeing and writing. Choosing the three-legged dog and the blue plate with the shell-shaped chip on its edge took considerable thought. They were tried out in classes and workshops, too, before I was confident they work. The underlying principle of an essay becomes clear to the reader — and the reader’s nervous system — if you give precise, physical examples.

Every essay has a topic, and almost every topic has a component in the real world. You have the potential to notice crucial image detail when the real world is involved. Once you start seeing the details, there will be a profusion of them. It’s up to you and your Crazy Child to pick ones that work for your purpose.

Image Detail and the Crazy Child

In any scene there are almost an infinite number of details. You could capture them all with a camera — all the visuals, small, odd, and dissonant. But such a photograph would be cluttered with useless and ineffective details.

If you want to convey the feeling of being in a room, you might start by describing the furniture. But where would you stop? Should you stop at the cat’s claw marks on the back of the couch? Should you stop at the fatty-acid molecules that have penetrated the naugahyde cushion? The small penknife that slipped out of someone’s pocket and is hidden in the crease of the easy chair? The radioactive ions sticking to the surface of a light bulb?

You need include only the details that do effective work. If you are writing a mystery novel, you might want to include the penknife, but not the cat scratches. An essay about cats, in contrast, could include those scratch marks. A science fiction story might use either the fatty acids or the ions. So might an essay on indoor pollution.

” Even if I could put down accurately the thing I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at, not copy it.” Georgia O’Keeffe

Perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe was talking about her painting of a poppy. She did not take a snapshot with her brushes. She probably listened into her body and saw with her eye at the same time — and painted a poppy flamboyant enough to convey what she felt as she looked at those orange petals.

Of course, only O’Keeffe knew what she did. But my experience suggests that a feeling in the body, a Crazy Child sensation, directs the eye in choosing the detail. The two actions — listening to the Crazy Child and observing with our senses — occur at the same time.

The most vivid details are those most deeply felt by the creative unconscious. This is the thesis of Let the Crazy Child Write! and it puts image detail squarely in the province of the Crazy Child. We may not know, consciously, what our most deeply felt images are. We may find them by watching our subject closely, or we may find them by getting into a zone and letting them flow out our fingers.

” It may be going too far to say that the exactness and concreteness and solidity of the real world achieved in a story correspond to the intensity of feeling in the author’s mind and to the very turn of his heart; but there lies the secret of our confidence in him.” Eudora Welty, Place in Fiction

Small, odd, and dissonant details work the same way in all creative writing — stories, poems, plays, or essays. Finding those that work best for you is an interesting journey. Your Crazy Child will pick details different from anyone else’s.

Let the Crazy Child Write! – 2

Preface: The Crazy Child

Beginning my studies the first step pleas’d me so much…
I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any
farther, But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.
–Walt Whitman, from “Beginning My Studies,” Leaves of Grass

The Crazy Child is an aspect of your personality that is directly linked to your creative unconscious. It is the place in your body that wants to express things. It may want to tell jokes, to throw rocks, to give a flower to someone, to watch the sunset, to make up insults, to sit quietly — or to play video games. All these impulses, all the thrilling, scary or ordinary ones, come from your Crazy Child.

The Crazy Child is also your connection to the past. Everything in your genetic history, your cultural history, your familial history, and your personal history is recorded in your body — in your nervous system. Your Crazy Child has direct access to it all. Everything you have done, and everything that has been done to you, is in its domain.

I experience my Crazy Child as energy coming up from my feet, through my torso, and up the back of my neck. It connects me to the Goddess, to God, to the earth, to space, to darkness, to my senses, to my dreams, and to sex. All the exciting and all the dark stuff simmering or roaring through my body is the Crazy Child.

Your “creative unconscious,” your “creative source,” and your “Crazy Child” are close cousins. I often use the terms interchangeably, but “Crazy Child” has the virtue of sounding playful and wild. When you address it as your Crazy Child, your creative unconscious may feel invited to come out, make itself comfortable, and start writing.

The Crazy Child’s Goal

The Crazy Child’s goal is to express itself — to have some kind of existence in the world. We spend so much of our lives telling it to behave or to shut up and go away, that it probably feels unappreciated. The Crazy Child would like to be heard.

Writing is a safe way for this part of you to be in the world — or a relatively safe way. If your Crazy Child wants to rob a bank, writing about a robbery is more prudent than doing the robbing. If it has an insight that makes you vulnerable, you can write it in a private diary.

When the Crazy Child writes, it’s a raw, truthful part of you that reveals itself. It has not been civilized. My Crazy Child knows what is happening, in spite of all contrary messages. It knows what it’s like to live in my neighborhood, in this culture, in this time, and in my body. My Crazy Child is the real me — or at least an essential, energetic part of me.

The Crazy Child coils tension into a story, loads a poem with gripping images, unfurls a play’s or novel’s plot ratchet by ratchet, and punches up an essay’s most dramatic point. The other voices, the Editor and Writer described below, are valuable aids to writing. But the Crazy Child — your creative unconscious — is the source.

Crazy Child, Writer, Editor

The Crazy Child has two companions: the “Writer” and the “Editor.” These three voices are much the same as the Freudian id, ego, and superego, and much the same as the child, adult, and parent of Transactional Analysis. Sometimes the voices get along well, and sometimes they are unruly antagonists.

The Crazy Child is equivalent to the child or the id. The id, literally, means “it” — but the word has a darker flavor. Some German parents, when they want to discourage their children from going out at night, say the “id” is outside, just as we would say “bogeyman.” The Crazy Child has some of that forbidden aura.

The Editor is the superego or the parent — the “should” voice. It analyzes and criticizes our writing, and is intelligent, well-read, and thinks it is civilized. Its judgments can be helpful, harsh or anywhere in between. The Editor might say you are right on schedule and doing well or it might tell you to get a real job.

The Writer is the voice that negotiates and plans, and it strives for coherence and reason. The part I am thinking with now is the Writer, which is the same as my ego or my adult. I use it to organize this book, to plan my writing life, and to schedule my lunch breaks.

If you are reading this with your Writer, you are probably absorbing it carefully. Your Editor could be assessing it at the same time, and possibly deciding that you’re not good enough for this book or that Let the Crazy Child Write! is too elementary or far too strange — or it’s a perfect match. Your Crazy Child will have its own feelings: it might be scared, irritated, awed or delighted.

All aspects of writing are expressed in these voices. One of them — Crazy Child, Writer, Editor or some combination — is chattering at every moment. When they quarrel, the Editor often tells the Crazy Child it’s stupid or shy or sappy. These quarrels can stop your writing cold.

Let the Crazy Child Write! will help your Editor and Writer understand how your Crazy Child is the vital force behind your creativity. They will learn to honor and tune in to your creative source. When they are getting along, the Editor and the Writer respond warmly to the Crazy Child.

All You Need Is the Urge to Write

Let the Crazy Child Write! is for anyone who wants to write. You may have no experience whatsoever, or you may have written as a child and are interested in trying it again. Perhaps you keep a journal or have begun stories, poems, plays or essays on your own.

Your job might involve some writing, such as preparing technical manuals or reports or briefs, and you are curious about creative writing. You may even have taken a class or read an inspirational guide, and now you want to explore the nuts and bolts.

All you need is the urge. Let the Crazy Child Write! will help you develop a connection between writing techniques and your unique creative source. You will learn, step by step, how to tap into your creative unconscious — your Crazy Child — and its indispensable, dynamic knowledge of writing.

How to Use this Book

Let the Crazy Child Write! is meant to be read on your own or with a writing group — either way. The chapters build one upon another, so it’s useful to read them in sequence. But you don’t need to; you might learn as much by following your nose and skipping around.

Each chapter introduces a writing technique. A discussion explores the technique, an exercise gives you a taste of it, and a workshop section, which is optional, suggests how to give and receive feedback. Each chapter closes with a short writing practice that gives you experience with the technique.

Discussion

Every chapter begins by discussing a technique of creative writing. The focus is on how that technique works in conjunction with the nervous system, and why it is important to creative writing — both to writers and to readers.

Examples show how the technique functions in stories, poems, plays, and essays, and how the energy and pungency of the technique arises automatically and naturally from our creative unconscious. That mischievous Crazy Child heightens our skills because it already wields them.

The discussion will indicate what you know, but don’t understand that you know. Learning creative writing is first a matter of bringing writing techniques into awareness. They are alive and thriving in the realm of the Crazy Child.

Exercise

Every chapter presents an exercise that gives you hands-on experience with its topic. You can do the exercise on your own or, if you have a workshop, do it during the workshop meeting. Do it quickly and with as much exuberance as you can muster. Don’t worry about how well you are writing. There is no wrong way to do any of the exercises — except to not write at all.

You can do the exercise in a half hour. You can lie on your bed, prop yourself on the stairs, lean against a tree, or sit in a cafe with other people or by yourself, however you are comfortable. My favorite spot is at my local daycare center, in a tiny room painted like a magic forest.

In general, follow the method suggested by Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones: keep the ink flowing. If you use a computer, keep those fingers wiggling. If you use a pen, keep that pen on the page, and keep it moving.

It doesn’t matter how good the writing is. It matters only that you are writing. You’re retrieving some of the natural skill your creative unconscious has, and acquiring a feeling for it. That’s the goal.

Workshop

You may want to wait until you feel confident as a writer before you join a workshop. You can read this book on your own and ignore the workshop sections, or you can peruse them for more information about writing.

If you’ve already written pieces you like, or if you just feel daring, consider starting a group. A workshop consists of two or more like-minded people who give each other feedback on their writing. This can be done in person, by mail, or by electronic mail. Workshops generally function best, however, when everyone is physically present.

You find out two things in workshops: how well your writing is going, and what steps to take next. These are surprisingly difficult to learn on your own. Your Editor often has too many suggestions or too many hostile judgments. A workshop will provide you with constructive insights in a way that you’ll be able to hear — even if your Editor and Writer are being contentious.

When you are ready, suggest to a suitable friend that the two of you start a workshop. If a friend doesn’t come to mind, post a note on a community bulletin board, advertize in a local paper, or make an announcement at a reading. Once you find someone, you can both invite friends.

You may be surprised how many people want to write. Decide on a regular meeting schedule and ask that members commit for a specific number of sessions. At each meeting, plan to hear everyone’s practice piece, written since the last meeting, and plan to write and listen to the exercise for the chapter you are reading.

It may take several sessions before your group gels, so be patient; the ideal is for each person to feel engaged and encouraged about writing. A workshop’s first concern is to establish a safe atmosphere. When it’s well on track everyone gets excited and stimulates better and better writing in each other. You have then created a “fermenting brew.”

Several ground rules, outlined on page 17, help generate this brew. I call the guidelines “kindergarten rules” and indeed they seem childlike, but they have a complex history. They have evolved over twenty years in my workshops and in other workshops around the country. The underlying concepts were first presented in 1973 by Peter Elbow in his book Writing Without Teachers.

The kindergarten rules constrain the Editor from giving heavy criticism that can stop people from writing. The ground rules establish a “syngenetic” workshopþone that focuses on understanding the writer’s primary impulse. The syngenetic workshop supports what each person is doing well, and cultivates each person’s unique strengths.

Practice

The practice section gives suggestions for a longer written piece that develops each chapter’s technique. The exercise gives you a quick hit and the practice expands your skill. Often the practice is an extension of the exercise. I will present several alternatives, and you should choose whichever one excites you.

The point of writing a practice piece is to solidify what you have learned before you go on to the next topic. It could take two to three hours. You might write more quickly or you might take ten hours or more. There is nothing wrong with either.

As you write, follow the spirit of the guidelines — whether you choose one of the alternatives or devise something on your own. If you write three to five double-spaced pages or the equivalent, you are doing enough to benefit. More is not harmful.

We need to practice a new skill many times before we can do it well. The human nervous system needs to repeat a technique some two thousand times before the skill can be performed without thought. The practice gives you a start on those two thousand repetitions.

Work Hard and Have Fun

Working with Let the Crazy Child Write! is a win-win situation. No matter how small or immense your writing career becomes, you will benefit from this book. You will discover how very interesting writing can be, and you will learn about creating detail, characters, dialogue, action, and more.

Let the Crazy Child Write! will also help you in writing letters, memoirs for your family, school papers, and even with the writing you do at your job. You will be able to write more clearly and more vividly, and enjoy doing it far more than you did before. You might also discover that you want to make writing an important part of your life.

Since Let the Crazy Child Write! develops basic skills and nourishes your creative source, it gives you a solid foundation for a writing career. You will discover the unique power in your own psyche and body. You will find out how well your Crazy Child can write.

Let the Crazy Child Write – 1

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Preface

  • The Crazy Child
  • The Crazy Child’s Goal
  • Crazy Child, Writer, Editor
  • All You Need Is the Urge to Write
  • HOW TO USE THIS BOOK: Discussion; Exercise; Workshop; Practice; Work Hard and Have Fun

Chapter One: Image Detail

  • How Image Detail Works
  • Powerful Image Details
  • Images Other Than Pictures
  • Repeated Image Detail
  • Image Detail in Stories
  • Imaginary Image Detail
  • Image Detail in Poems
  • Image Detail in Plays
  • Image Detail in Essays
  • Image Detail and the Crazy Child
  • ExerciseInterview; Truth or Fiction; Writing Your Notes
  • Workshop The Syngenetic Workshop; Read Out Loud and Take Notes; The Author’s Job; The Listener’s Job
  • Practice New Journalism; Alternatives

 

Chapter Two: Slow Motion Kinetic Detail

  • Slow Motion in Stories
  • Slow Motion in Poems
  • Slow Motion in Plays
  • Slow Motion in Essays
  • Reading Is a Physical Process
  • Writing Is a Physical Process
  • Slow Motion and the Crazy Child
  • Exercise Accurate to the Split Second; Slow Motion and Journalism
  • Workshop Suggestions for rewriting; Who Is Correct?

Chapter Three: Hook

  • Crazy Child Hooks
  • Plot and the Hook
  • Hooks in Stories
  • Hooks in Poems
  • Slow Hooks
  • Hooks in Plays
  • Hooks in Essays
  • Exercise Germs; Silly Hooks; Expanding the Germs
  • Workshop Something Extra; Listen for Hooks; Clunky Suggestions
  • Practice Beginning the Action; Alternative; Not Knowing Where You Are Going

Chapter Four: Persona Writing

  • Persona and the Author
  • Persona in Stories
  • Talent and Persona
  • Persona in Poems
  • Persona in Essays
  • Persona in Plays
  • Persona and the Crazy Child
  • Exercise Taking-Off Points; Getting Unstuck; Crazy Child and the Body; Crazy Child Writing Promotes Good Health; Awful- Feeling Crazy Child Writing
  • Workshop Doors
  • Practice Alternative; Listen to the Darkness; Find a Door; Crazy Child and Political Correctness

Chapter Five: Point of View

  • Persona and Point of View
  • Crazy Child and Point of View
  • First-Person Point of View
  • Third-Person Point of View
  • Omniscient Point of View
  • Shifting Third-Person Point of View
  • Point of View in Poems
  • Point of View in Essays; Point of View in Plays
  • Exercise Camera-on- the-Shoulder; Crazy Child Options
  • Workshop Apple
  • Practice Point of View and Consistency; Alternatives

Chapter Six: Dialogue

  • Definitions of Dialogue
  • Dialogue and the Crazy Child
  • Dialogue and Communication
  • Stairwell Wit; Dialogue in Stories
  • Dialogue in Poems; Dialogue in Plays
  • Dialogue and Miscommunication
  • Dialogue in Essays
  • Framing Dialogue
  • Precision in Dialogue;
  • Exercise Dialects and Accents; Dialogue and Listening
  • Workshop Listening to Point of View; Listening to Dialogue; The Weaver and the Weaving
  • Practice Point of View and Dialogue; Choosing a Point of View; Write Different Stances

Chapter Seven: Plot

  • Hook, Issue, Resolution
  • Plot and the Crazy Child
  • Plot as Obstacles
  • What Is the Issue?
  • Plot in One Sentence
  • Plot in Poems
  • Plot in Plays
  • Plot in Essays
  • Plot as Magnet
  • Exercise Plot Germs
  • Workshop Listening to Plot Germs; Listening to Dialogue Again; What Does It Need?; Mini-Beats; Check with the Author
  • Practice Missing Valuables; Image Detail, Slow Motion, Persona, Point of View, Dialogue; Follow the Magnet

Chapter Eight: Narrative Presence

  • Persona, Point of View, Narrative Presence
  • Attitude
  • Steeped in the Narrator’s Mind
  • Crazy Child and Narrative Presence
  • Distancing
  • Distancing and the Surface
  • Narrative Presence in Poems
  • Narrative Presence in Plays; Narrative Presence in Essays
  • Voice and Stride
  • Exercise Twelve-Sentence Childhoods; Hidden Connotation
  • Workshop Listening to Plot Again; What Is the Piece About? Presenting Options; Let the Author Speak;
  • Practice First Rewrite

Chapter NineGood Cliches

  • Cliches and the Crazy Child
  • Going into Cliches
  • Twisting Cliches
  • Gushing Cliches
  • Cliches and “Like”
  • Cliches in Plays
  • Cliches in Essays
  • Have No Fear
  • Cliches and the Editor and the Writer
  • Exercise Crazy Child, Writer, Editor; Write the Next Word; Gushing Cliches and Twisting Cliches; Trail of Cliches
  • Workshop Workshopping the Rewrite; Baby Steps
  • Practice Anger and the Crazy Child; Amping the Attitude and Pushing the Envelope

Chapter Ten: Character

  • A Few Traits Convey Character
  • Character and Belief
  • Character, Point of View, Narrative Presence, Persona
  • Character and the Crazy Child
  • Character and Action
  • Character and Internal Dialogue
  • Character and Image Detail
  • Character and Quirks
  • Character in Plays
  • Character in Poems and Essays
  • Steeped in Character
  • Exercise Character Before and After; Get Wild
  • Workshop Unpleasant Characters; The Complete Crazy Child Exercise; Give More
  • Practice Dreaming into Character; Character and Personal Issues; Mix and Match

Chapter Eleven: Surrealism

  • Surrealism and the Crazy Child
  • Surrealism and Imagining
  • Surrealism and a Different Universe
  • Bold Surrealism; Surrealism and Emotion
  • Surrealism in Essays
  • Surrealism in Plays
  • Locating the Surreal
  • Exercise Dream Logic; An Object Becomes Surreal; Crazy Child as Big
  • Workshop Apple Again; Real Time; Bracketing
  • Practice Synchronicity; Editor, Writer, Crazy Child; Synchronicity in Progress

Chapter Twelve: Resolution

  • Surface and Undercurrent
  • Crazy Child and Resolution
  • Resolution in Poems
  • Resolution in Stories
  • Resolution in Plays
  • Resolution in Essays
  • Premodern, Modern, Postmodern Resolutions
  • Steeped in the Issue
  • Exercise Freeze-Frame; Editor, Writer, Crazy Child Confrontation
  • Workshop Say Just Enough; Bring the Issue Into the Foreground; The Rake; Move the Target to Hit the Arrow; Nitpicky Remarks
  • Practice Writing in Reverse; Five Steps of Creation; Poetic License; Continuing Your Writing

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