A recent piece by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian, titled "How to Think about Writing," caught my attention because he seemed to be describing how I've always felt about blogging -- at least the sort of blogging I do, and like to read -- but it also applies generally to much of the writing I admire -- and ultimately decide to publish.
"When you write," Pinker says, "you should pretend that you, the writer, see something in the world that's interesting, and that you're directing the attention of your reader to that thing."
Perhaps this seems stupidly obvious. How else could anyone write? Yet much bad writing happens when people abandon this approach. Academics can be more concerned with showcasing their knowledge; bureaucrats can be more concerned with covering their backsides; journalists can be more concerned with breaking the news first, or making their readers angry. All interfere with "joint attention", making writing less transparent.
Couldn't agree more, though I never thought of it quite so simply. As Burkeman points out, many writers start with this as a goal, but somehow abandon or forget it along the way. As a meditator, I'd venture to guess that what gets in the way is our ego: the writing becomes about us: our emotions, desires, problems, needs, the particular ax we want to grind. In other words, we forget that the reader is standing beside us, or sitting across from us, waiting for something to unfold; waiting to be delighted, surprised, enlightened; waiting to ponder; waiting for her world to open and shift ever so slightly, waiting to be changed. That can happen through a little quirk of human behavior shown through dialogue, or through a single sentence of luminous descriptive prose, a line of poetry that reveals the familiar through an entirely new lens -- and of course, I think it can also happen through drawing and painting and all the other arts. Burkeman concludes with this advice, worth printing out and putting on my studio wall:
The reader wants to see; your job is to do the pointing.
Of course, it really isn't that simple. First we have to train ourselves to be people who actually see something: people who are able to quiet down enough that we become an eye, an ear, a sensitive skin, but not so sensitive that we cannot bear it. Then we have to learn how to express what we have learned through our senses, intelligence, and experience. Finally, we have to learn how to give it away - how to point our effort toward the invisible reader rather than back at ourselves; how to become a vessel that fills and empties over and over again.
Not a bad way to spend a life.
(cross-posted from the Editor's personal blog, The Cassandra Pages)
In honor of National Poetry Month, we've put ALL our poetry titles on sale at 20% off. The sale applies only to orders placed directly through our online store (no Amazon orders, sorry); at check-out, please enter code Q6C5Z6HY and the discount will be applied.
Thanks for your support of poetry, poets, and independent publishing!
Rabbi/Poet Rachel Barenblat is in Jerusalem for a family bar mitzvah, and we're delighted that she'll also be giving a poetry reading including poems from her two Phoenicia titles, 70 Faces: Torah Poems, and Waiting to Unfold. Rachel is blogging about her trip on her own blog, Velveteen Rabbi.
Bethlehem blogger Vicky, a longtime reader of Rachel's blog, met up with her in the Old City and wrote about the day they spent together. Her post is fascinating reading, contains some beautiful photographs, and is a hopeful comment about the power of personal integrity and good writing that communicates across continents, cultures, and religions.
Have a great trip, Rachel!
photo (c) 2014 Rachel Barenblat
Apple Computer thinks Jon Appleton is pretty cool, and so do we at Phoenicia! For their celebration of the Mac at 30, Apple produced a major publication on their website, featuring one person per year -- artists, designers, musicians, scientists and more -- who have used the Mac in innovative and creative ways that moved computing and culture forward.
Jon Appleton was their choice for the year 1985. Here's what they said:
"Pioneering Electronic Music: Electro-acoustic composer Jon Appleton established one of the first digital music studios in the world, and it was built completely around the Macintosh. With his Appletones software, he developed a revolutionary new way to teach the principles of composition to his students, inspiring musicians for years to come.
Phoenicia congratulates Jon on this well-deserved recognition. Check out his electro-acoustic music at Amazon and iTunes, and his more recent classical compositions here at Phoenicia!
"a beautiful addition to piano literature"
Steve Reich, a pioneer of minimalism and one of America's best-known composers of contemporary music composers, recently called Jon Appleton's new compositions "a beautiful addition to piano literature." After hearing the newly released CD, Reich said he was particularly drawn to Appleton's reworking of Couperin's 'Les Bergeries'/The Sheepfolds. Noting that J.S. Bach also included that short work of Couperin's in his Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, Reich mentioned the tradition of modern composers reworking Baroque pieces. He appreciated Appleton's sensitive reworking of Couperin's beautiful, haunting melodies.
Reich and Appleton have known each other for a number of decades; both were well-known early innovators and advocates of electro-acoustic music.
The Scarlatti Doubles/The Couperin Doubles
Audio CD, 53 minutes
Complete description, Ordering Information, and special offer
Phoenicia had its best year ever in 2013, and we'd like to thank every single person who contributed: the readers who bought books, the authors who wrote them, the artists whose work graced the book covers and interiors, and the craftspeople who ran the presses and binderies or shipping departments. A lot of minds and hands go into the making of a book, and no matter how advanced our technology becomes, this is still the case.
And we're excited, looking ahead to 2014! The first release will be a new CD of music by Jon Appleton, brilliantly performed by Minkyung Oh. Then there will be a large-format book of photographs of the 60s and 70s: turbulent years of protest, change, and the back-to-the-land movement by Jonathan Sa'adah, with essays by several excellent writers; and later in the spring, a book of prose poems by Luisa Igloria.
So, thank you again for being interested in us, and for your support of independent publishing. It is greatly appreciated!
The weather may be cold, but these holiday savings are hot!
From now until December 16, paperback editions of all our full-length poetry books will be on sale for the price of $12.00 rather than the usual $13.95. Hardback editions of Thaliad and Ancient Lights are also offered at $23.00 instead of $26. The sale price will be applied when you visit the e-store, or any Amazon.com site; for customers in the UK or Europe, the sale prices have been converted to local currency.
Titles included are:
Thaliad : paper and hardcover
70 Faces: Torah Poems
Angels & Beasts
Ancient Lights : paper and hardcover
Take advantage of the excellent prices as a gift for yourself or someone special, and support poetry and independent publishing at the same time. The authors and publisher thank you!
Phoenicia is delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of Night Willow, a collection of prose poems by Luisa A. Igloria. Like much of Luisa's work, Night Willow employs memory and associations as well as the ingredients of the everyday, but goes beyond the narrative and the purely lyrical to create a dream-like atmosphere that contains beauty, bewilderment, anguish, and hope.
In writing Night Willow, Igloria said she wanted to stretch both herself and her craft, asking her prose to do "the same hard muscle work I expect in every poem that I write."
"It was an experience that felt almost like trying my hand at musical composition," she said. "I wanted to create mood, tone, networks of memory and echo so that the poems could speak to each other across and within the collection - but at the same time achieve a level of language that is also precise and thoughtful."
At Phoenicia we feel she has achieved this goal, and much more besides, and expect that the readers who come to our press for the highest-quality contemporary poetry -- poetry that also pushes boundaries -- will agree.
Readers may be familiar with Igloria's poem-a-day project, published on Dave Bonta's blog, Via Negativa; what they may not realize is that she was the first Filipina woman of letters installed in the Palanca Literary Hall of Fame in the Philippines, and is an eleven-time winner of that country's highest literary award, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (in poetry, non-fiction, and short fiction) as well as having a very long list of American poetry awards to her credit.
Sabine Murray called Igloria "a singular and revelatory voice in American poetry," and Kristin Naca said that in her poems, "measured, intuitive music splendidly unleashes the bewildering in the everyday."
I still remember reading, with admiration and that sense of surprise editors always look for, the first poem Luisa sent to an issue of qarrtsiluni that I was co-editing. Carlos A. Angeles has said: “[Her] poetry inhabits the heart first, then the mind, and the soul…her work contains some of the most extraordinary and most polished poetry written by a Filipino poet in English today.” I agree, but think there is no reason any longer to limit Igloria's strength to one country's poetic output; it is extraordinary and polished poetry by any standard, and we're proud to be publishing this collection.