scotland, ivy

Neile's very belated Clarion West Week 1 write-a-thon report

This went out today to those who either emotionally or financially sponsor my Clarion West write-a-thon commitment. If you want to see the full poem, please send me a message here or through facebook or my email to let me know you want to support me, or you can sponsor my efforts financially through my write-a-thon page by donating to Clarion West there.


Hey, all--

Thank you so much for your past and present support of me, and of Clarion West. I apologize that this is so very, very late. It's not just that things have been so busy (though they have), but also that this week's poem is a birthday present for my husband, Jim, and his birthday wasn't until this Saturday, July 6th. He's also a sponsor, and I didn't want to give it to him before the day because I like to make a fuss on his birthday (even though he'd rather I didn't).

It's thanks to supporters and sponsors that I wrote anything the first week of the workshop. Writing would not have happened had I not had this commitment.

My writing time was in bits: fifteen minutes here, a half-hour there, mostly because of losing expected time and grabbing other time when I had it. I'm certain it adds up to at least my seven-hour promise, but lost track of the pieces along the way, and was a day late with the first draft of the poem.

The fiction I had intended to work on (and did, a little) is my novel, The Empty City, which needs a second draft. See my write-a-thon page to read the opening of the novel, should you wish to.

However, I have once again been distracted by re-reading the early chapters of The Road Between, my Gypsy Davey novel, and with much despair realized that the beginning wasn't quite right.

I wound up spending much of the week on it, but I'm very happy with the work I did.

The first week of the workshop, guided by the brilliant and amazing Elizabeth Hand and enhanced by cogent, eye-opening comments by writer and critic John Clute, was a wonder. The students had a great week and it was terrific watching Liz and John work with them. This is an intense and accomplished group with tons of promise and I'm enjoying getting to know them all and am honoured to be helping this workshop happen for them.

As I mentioned, this week's poem draft is a birthday present for Jim. It was also sparked by a comment from a student about books she loved that I misunderstood, which sent me looking for a book called The Summoning Spell. I was astonished to find that there is no book with that title. Someone needs to write that.

When I began I thought that was the title for this poem, but that shifted once the first draft was completed when I was driving Neil Gaiman to an appointment and had some time to kill before picking him up. On the way there we were talking about climate (as one does in Seattle when the weather is un-Northwest-like hot) and he was saying how he's used to the British (and *usual* Northwest-like climate) while his wife prefers the heat. So this poem is also for them.

Thank you again for supporting my writing. And for supporting Clarion West, which inspires so much of my writing.




Summering Spell

Come layer of prickle-sweat masking faces
Come the trickle into hollows, down the spine
sharpening each body's scent--


If you want too see the rest of the poem, please let me know by following the instructions at the top of this message.
scotland, ivy

I still exist

Haven't been writing journal entries, though. Not totally sure why, except this has been an exceedingly demanding year. It wanted a lot of me.

So tomorrow is June, which is the month another Clarion West workshop begins. So, yes, I'm busy. Getting ready for the workshop (only three more weeks), trying to wrap up my U of WA projects by the end of the academic year (only two more weeks), writing, reading.

Also, tomorrow being June means that today was my grandmother June's birthday. Were she still among us, she would have been either 109 (her count) or 113 (the world's count). Not sure why shaving four years off her life made a difference to her, but at some point it did and she stuck to it. We didn't find out until after she died that she'd been doing that. We also found out a whole lot of other things but that's family stuff and of little interest to anyone but us so I won't go there.

But here, let me show you my grandmother, so you can see why despite her eccentricities about age, she inspired me (as she was clearly inspired by Isadora Duncan):


and here's my poem about that photograph.

My Grandmother's Photograph

The wind tonight is not quite spring but holds
a fragrant hint of soil, and blind shoots
wake to that scent.
                             In gusts at once warm and cool
there is no room for bare feet or women like white birds
in Grecian gowns. It's not yet May and sixty-five years
have spun by. She's dead, who in this photograph presses
naked feet against grass, raises arms to dance,
a white shawl drifting like feathers from her hands.
She knows nothing yet. Her confidence, tender
as a bird's.
                  I can't trust the web spun between us
to bind her, it's stretched over so many years.
Looking at this girl, I wonder how much I would explain to her,
how I could warn her that her first child will be still-born.
Defying the doctor to conceive another, she'll take a pin
to the French safe he made her husband wear. Her daughter
will bear me and I will remember her old in the mahogany bed
lying in regal darkness at the curving hall's end,
never dreaming of this white-gowned girl with waist-long hair
stepping into the history of her life

and mine. The wind pushing through her to me
is fecund with dreams and mud and doesn't tie us. Each movement
I make toward her is another step in her dance, another breath
of wind pressing her forward into the season.
                                                                         I remember gathering
her sweeping hair into a widow's bun. Her hair still dark as
distance, yet light as birds and the girl I create of her.


Copyright © Neile Graham, 1994.
Previously published in Spells for Clear Vision and Dandelion.

scotland, ivy

Note to self

A month ago I wrote myself this email, but I thought I'd copy it here to remind myself (and get it out of my inbox). Note that I rarely remember my dreams.

Last night I dreamt of the most beautiful islands. They were enchanted.
The colours of the landscape were so beautiful they were almost surreal.

I was on a ferry headed toward them, then I got separated from the people
I was with and had to run around looking for them and it became a more
normal dream. But those islands!
scotland, ivy

Report from Week Six (The End!) of the 2012 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Hey, all--

It's over. So soon. I'm missing this year's students, and having trouble adjusting to the fact that the 100%-writing-enabling time of my year is already done. It feels like we just started. There are still a few things to wrap up, including a sorority house's worth of pillows piled up on my bed so I can be sure they're totally dry before I pack them up, but that's all.

I managed just the bare minimum seven hours unplugged working on the novel this week. The main excuse for not managing more time was (as I mentioned in last week's report) that I spent a few days days fighting off a bad cold--the first time in the twelve years I've been working with the workshop that I got sick. It meant that I missed a day in the workshop and worst of all, I missed Chuck Palahnuik's reading, which I heard was wonderful and included flying tigers. Flying tigers! Damn.

I am pleased with the novel progress I made--it's moving along rather than trudging right now, which feels good. I'm just at the cusp of one of the big, fun plot events, so it's good to know where I'm going. All the weirdnesses of my protagonist's experience thus far are coming to a head.

This week's poem is a glosa, which is a poem where you take four lines from another poet's work, and build your own poem around them, using each of the four lines for the last of a ten-line stanza. There are also end rhymes on the 6th, 9th, and 10th lines. I've had these four lines from Orkney poet George Mackay Brown in a file for a couple of years, waiting for the right moment to strike me, and when I opened file on Wednesday, this poem spilled right in. I hope you enjoy it.

Thank you all again so much for your support of me and of Clarion West!




The Lark, The Peat, The Star, and Our Time

And a lark flashed a needle across the west
And we spread a thousand peats
Between one summer star
And the black chaos of fire at the earth's centre.
—George Mackay Brown

It was the year when there was no summer,
when it hid under banks of rain, ducked
behind fog, dashing across the street
in front of us, rolling under a car and out
the other side, its face flashing in a side mirror,
flirting for our notice, as though it were a test
of our worthiness. We weren't. Worthy that is.



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
scotland, ivy

Report from Week Five of the 2012 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Hey, all--

Thank you again for supporting both me and Clarion West.

This was a wonderful, totally packed week. We had the incredible Kelly Link and Gavin Grant team teaching as writers/editors, and they brought along their lovely daughter, Ursula, and Kelly's delightful mother, Annie. It was great, but oh so busy.

So busy that for the first time ever, and most inconveniently, I have gotten sick during the workshop. Just a bad cold with a slight fever, but today I missed class and will likely be missing tonight's reading because I don't want to subject people to my charming sound effects when they're trying to listen to Chuck Palahniuk.

This means I will miss not only Chuck's reading (boo!), but the public announcement about next year's line-up. Sigh.

Because of all the busy, once again I barely managed to complete my seven hours offline. I made some progress, and the beginning of the novel is starting to feel solid. Better yet, I'm beginning to feel my way into forthcoming events, so the shadow of the novel-to-come is taking shape. Yay!

However, the poem I was working on for this week stalled out entirely. It sat there sullenly with five not-very-exciting lines until I gave up on it for now.

At the last minute I asked Jim for a number between 1 and 20. He said 14. So I went to my Child's Ballads, opened up #14, and took every 14th word from all the variant versions printed there. I stirred those words with a big stick and this is what I came up with...first draft, remember? Maybe the first word of the title is a clue to the poem, though it's the title of the ballad the words come from.

Babylon; Or, The Bonnie Banks of Fordie

fair Marjorie was an outlyer and went by the knife
but John the ploughman He taen her for life
there from his house she took her stand
"will ye rather me stand by Whan


[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
scotland, ivy

Report from Week Four of the 2012 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Hey, all--

Thank you again for supporting my writing and Clarion West.

This was a great week. Connie Willis is such a wonderful presence at the workshop: a lovely person and full of both nuts-and-bolts and inspiration. The class seems to be tired (what a surprise) but otherwise holding up well. I suppose I am the same.

Again I barely managed to complete my seven hours offline. There was just so much to do, but I'm glad I managed it. The new novel now feels that it has a solid foundation. It's not coming as quickly as I might hope (so much for my wish to have a complete first draft before returning to my UW job in September) but I'm pleased with what I have, and especially am having fun working with my smart-mouth protagonist.

This week's poem was a bit of a struggle, too. It arose from reading up on Scottish alchemists, and I'm not certain why I started doing that. They don't have anything to do with the novel that I know of, nor particularly for the poems I want to work on, except the Scottish part, and the magical thinking part, maybe. One article I came across included a 17th-century English translation of a 16th-century poem written in Latin by Scottish alchemist, George Buchanan, which basically is a refutation of Copernicus, arguing how the earth really is the center of creation.

I found these sections scattered through the poem and my own words started to build themselves around them. It felt random but also obsessive. This is very much a first draft, but here it is. It's about writing and reading messages, and lighting a spark where there is none.

I hope you find it interesting, and thank you again for supporting my writing.




The Alchemy

-- Georgij Bucanani de Sphaera. Lib. i. in English verse translated by I. C.--

_The tymes of light & shade, Turnes heat to Colde,
And sunne & moone with darkenes doth enfolde,_

spark a match to the wick. Light the dark.
This is the small apocalypse we live
each day, our cells dying as we build
ourselves anew. Open the book. Inside it:



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
scotland, ivy

Report from Week Three of the 2012 Clarion West Write-a-thon

Hey, all--

Thank you again for supporting me--Clarion West appreciates it and I especially do.

This was a hectic week, and I learned what it means to be a rock star. Intellectually, I knew, but really it wasn't until I spent time this week with George R. R. Martin that I got to see what it was like in action.

It was strange. In the classroom and around the workshop mostly it was normal, but all around it there were a lot of people wanting bits of George's time. Emailing. Phoning. Emailing and phoning. When I drove him to his reading we went past the front doors and he said "I hope they don't see me" and I realized that yes, some of that crowd would be perfectly capable of thrusting something through the car window for him to sign. So I blocked him from view. The reading was an Event. He is a master of the Event. I'm wondering if I should auction off the seat of my car he sat in...I bet someone would want to turn it into a throne of swords.

Anyway, that was interesting. I don't know how he stays so sane (and he does--he's very matter of fact). In class his critiques were tough but good, and I think the students learned a lot from him. He has a lot of knowledge to share.

As for my own work, this week I just barely scraped by with my seven hours offline. It seemed whenever I sat down to write there was someone who needed something or a ride somewhere or just some organizing, or...anyway, I squeaked through. I have finally stopped tinkering with the old novel and the new novel is slowly gathering words and momentum.

Good thing I started my poem early, because it was a birthday present for Jim, whose birthday was Friday and I knew I wouldn't be able to be around much Friday so I wanted to give him something special. I gave it to him Thursday night as it turned midnight, since technically it was 6th. This one started because I've been haunted by a dream I had a while back where a stream filled with migrating salmon ran under our kitchen floor. And I guess on his birthday (since he *hates* birthdays and I wasn't going to be around much) I wanted to talk to him about the richness of our life together.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thank you again for supporting my writing.




With Bats in our Belfry, Dear, Earth Water and Sky

Our kitchen proved a considerable obstacle to the spawning salmon.
Back and forth at its doorway they bobbed
nosing the threshold.

The sparrows slipped in through the vents roosting high
with an eye to the cats. The cats certainly
had an eye for them.



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
scotland, ivy

Report from Week Two of the 2012 Clarion West Write-a-thon

This was an energetic, upbeat, and hard-working week for the Clarion West students as they submitted their first real stories (rather than exercise stories) and had them critiqued by the class and by the quite wonderful Stephen Graham Jones. He is an impressive teacher and a lot of fun, as well. His style was a great match for Clarion West, and also followed marvelous first-week instructor Mary Rosenblum well. He was very different from her, but in a complementary rather than contradictory way. I love watching how the progression of instructors each shapes the class and its culture.

This was a somewhat quieter week for me, so I exceeded my write-a-thon time commitment by several hours (I stopped keeping track at the end). The Freedom software, which cuts me off from the internet but not from our internal network, works beautifully for me, and is a much better solution than actually unplugging the modem. Also, for the first time ever I'm not using Word to write in. I'm using Scrivener. I've owned it for a long time but never gave it a proper try-out and I'm liking it a lot so far. It helps track things I formerly used extra Word files, paper notes, post-it notes, and the Mac Stickies (basically electronic stickies) for.

I think I finally finished tinkering on the first novel this week. I worked on it, the week's poem, and the new novel in turns. I made certain that I added a little to the new novel each day--maybe I should mention its title, since I think this is one that will stick, The Silver Bones--because I hope to build up momentum.

This week's poem is a little more whimsical than last. I made the mistake of showing it to Jim early, and he suggested (wait! I didn't ask for suggestions!) that it needed cutting, so what you have here is a second rather than first draft. And yes, Jim, I think it's better for the cutting and reshaping. He also assures me that it wasn't too cutesy. I hope you agree.

One of the Clarion West students is a medieval scholar and says she can translate my title into Latin for me. I'm going to wait to ask her until after the workshop, though.

I hope you enjoy this and thank you again for supporting my writing.




Cats Aren't From Around Here. Really.

The cats are studying me
like I might be the solution to a problem
and I don't mean the one about
tin openers. The iridescence of their eyes
means they've been cat-stepping

faster than light across universes
tinkering with cosmic mechanics.


[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or who cheers me on.]
scotland, ivy

Report from Week One of the Clarion West Write-a-thon

Hey, all--

Thank you so much for your support of me, and of Clarion West. I am somewhat embarrassed that the Write-a-thon is the only thing that keeps me making time to concentrate on my own work while the workshop is running, but knowing you are out there and a report is due keeps me making that writing time.

Recently I've been struggling with a new novel--one that was originally a short story--and I've been frustrated over and over at trying to crack the story open to let out the novel that's in it.

I was wrestling with it this week, and had a sudden revelation about--this is a "duh" moment--dramatizing a portion that I had been having my main character narrate. Then I fell into a rabbit hole.

I've never been quite happy with the first chapter of my first novel, the one I finished revising (or thought I had) last year. Even since I'd done a drastic cut, I'd thought it started too quickly, and I realized I needed to start the novel just an hour earlier and dramatize the the preliminary action before the first scene. That led to some other tinkering and I knew I needed to work on the end just a *bit* more.

I wound up spending much of the week on it, but I'm very happy with the work I did. Even after I realized I'd committed to seven hours offline a week rather than five (the number that was in my poor memory), and had to work from 11:00 to 1:00 last night to complete my commitment, I was happy.

The Clarion West students had a great week and it was terrific watching Mary Rosenblum work with them. Exciting, even. This is a really promising group and they're a lot of fun. I feel honoured to be helping them have this wonderful workshop experience. I love watching them get to know each other and start writing and critiquing each others' work.

Oh, and this week's poem draft. Hmm. 2012 has been a brutal year in many ways, and the echoes go deep. Not that there haven't been wonderful things, too, because there certain have been, but I've been a little haunted, and this poem reflects that.

Thank you again for supporting my writing.




Clear-Cut Spirit Song

--for Devin--

What remains? Waste all around me
and I still stand. What am I spared for?

Spared. Which means alone, doesn't it?
Which means sole survivor. But I'm not.



[The full text of the poem is available to anyone who sponsors me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon or will serve as a cheerleader.]
scotland, ivy

77-7-7 Meme

1. Go to page 77 (or 7th) of your current ms
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.

Since the current project doesn't yet have 77 pages, I went to the 7th line of page 7, which was the start of a paragraph. Seven sentences brought me this:

I might be excited, too, if she hadn't already shown me lots of bits of stone and bone and shell that could have been anything and looked more like nothing--still, it's a chance to get back under shelter without her scoring any points. So I lift the crackling tarp and duck under the metal frame that holds it above the precious dirt.

"What?" I keep my voice flat, so she can't feel like she really has my attention--which is a waste of time because she doesn't notice. She's frantically sweeping the dirt away with a paintbrush, an artist caught up in a moment of frenetic inspiration, her nose inches from the handle's end.

"Shit!" she says. "It really is something!..."