This Is How We Do It…

Just read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Baca’s Writing in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet in the Barrio.

Rilke was my way of ending the year and Baca was the jumpoff for ’09. Both books serve as great guides for any writer who is feeling an internal dilemma when it comes to their writing process. For me that used to revolve around feeling community acceptance but not feeling like the community itself was pushing me to go deeper in my writing. And, in all fairness, that wasn’t communities job anyways.

A point of clarification, when I say community in the past tense, I am referring to my old NYC Open Mic haunts. If I say community in the present tense, I am referring to writers whose work inspires me via print, blog, correspondence or is just a chill person to hang around with.

These days, community pushes me forward by giving me longer blueprints for literary success which means I am reading more now than I ever have but am also ready to dedicate real sit-down time for more writing, editing, revision, submission and some critical writing. Will this plan work? We’ll see in 2010.

Back to the maestros, Rilke’s slim volume is so direct and no hassle, cutting past all the ga-ga and reaches the core question everybody who first puts it down on page is asking to themselves: Am I a real writer? Hell, it’s a question that has dogged me for years after I started laying it down on the pad. All to say, this is a classic text and one I can see myself revisiting every end of the year.

Baca’s book is a bit more broad and deals with the specifics of isolationism, not from writing but from living though incarceration, racial stereotypes and the benign neglect of inadequate state services. All of these factors being something that I have always lived with (though I’ve only felt the repurcussions of incarceration from a distance) and have worked their way into my writing life. But those specific experiences shouldn’t make this a guide for a select few, the sting of all these outside forces has forced the writer to travel within so when he speaks of “writing in the dark” it becomes a place of quiet and possibility where one can reinvent themselves through their writing. The result is a poetry that is every bit as internal as the process Rilke details but also honors the individual’s sense of personal history.

In the here and now, I’m finding other texts that are guiding my way through the new kid on the block I keep calling “da manuscript.”
• Barb has been detailing the formation of Diwata for a long time now and seeing it move from a concept, to text, to revision, with the next step, book editing, looming on the horizon.
• Oliver de la Paz has a new post on the current layout of his MS. I’m appreciating the snapshot he is sharing with the blogosphere and am eager to see how the final revision will look like.
• Javier is also pulling the curtain back and revealing the mechanics behind his new collection, the classes he’ll be teaching and more.
• Vince Gotera goes backwards in time and draws a map of how his first book, Dragonfly, came to be. His posts on metrics and rhymes are also badass and just the kind of poet education I’m always lookin’ for.
• Linh Dinh’s recent Harriet post, What I Usually Say to my Students, drops some great advice and generates an interesting dialogue in the comment stream.
• Rigoberto González, one of the most prolific writers I know, is always a great resource for how to improve one’s craft. Peep this interview at ForeWord Magazine.

And we’ll end with Gabriela Mistral and her breakdown on what it is to be an artist.

    Decálogo del Artista

    I. Amarás la belleza, que es la sombra de Dios sobre el Universo.

    II. No hay arte ateo. Aunque no ames al Creador, lo afirmarás creando a su semejanza.

    III. No darás la belleza como cebo para los sentidos, sino como el natural alimento del alma.

    IV. No te será pretexto para la lujuria ni para la vanidad, sino ejercicio divino.

    V. No la buscarás en las ferias ni llevarás tu obra a ellas, porque la Belleza es virgen, y la que está en las ferias no es Ella.

    VI. Subirá de tu corazón a tu canto y te habrá purificado a ti el primero.

    VII. Tu belleza se llamará también misericordia, y consolará el corazón de los hombres.

    VII. Darás tu obra como se da un hijo: restando sangre de tu corazón.

    IX. No te será la belleza opio adormecedor, sino vino generoso que te encienda para la acción, pues si dejas de ser hombre o mujer, dejarás de ser artista.

    X. De toda creación saldrás con vergüenza, porque fué inferior a tu sueño, e inferior a ese sueno maravilloso de Dios, que es la Naturaleza.

    © Gabriela Mistral

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1 Comment

  1. Hii. Good post and I am glad to see you airing these thoughts on manuscript work publicly. I’ve always thought your placing as a finalist for the Montoya Prize to be very significant. Thank you also for acknowledging my Diwata blog posts. I’d always thought they were tedious and un-glam, to let folks see how much we sweat our work, and how many cycles of self-doubt we endure in order to get to that polished book. Anyway, I think the rewards are greater the more we sweat at it.

    word verification = babsong, what my alternate former college prep self used to sing, wearing a cardigan sweater and herringbone skirt.

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