james tate

being tired, being inspired

I came across this gem last night while I was not sleeping.  I’m particularly interested in Mr. Tate’s idea of “writing out of exhaustion” — that writing while tired (either physically or mentally, I guess) can result in material interestingly distinct from writing written while one is “refreshed.”  This seems to be the polar opposite of what Maggie Nelson expresses here (via here) — that periods of inactivity are somehow inherent or necessary to periods of activity.  I don’t know… I feel like I see the merits of both.  There are times when I’m particularly energized and times when I’m not, but I like to write through it all.  How bout you guys: write to exhaustion or write through exhaustion?  THOUGHTS?


Random / 18 Comments
January 24th, 2011 / 8:54 pm

(Not) Today in Class: Two Assignments

Dream a little dream. I dreamed last night that I almost killed two kittens I was keeping in Tupperware. I forgot to give them water.

Next week my students will come to class with dream journals and dream poems in hand. They’ve spent a week remembering their dreams or making up their dreams. They’ll be thinking about dream logic and dreaming about thinking logic. They will want to spend class talking about dreams, and we will because I like talking about my dreams as much as the next dreamer. One of my favorite poems is Berryman’s “Dream Song 14,” though it isn’t very dreamlike:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Two more of my favorite dream poems, and these follow a  straightforwardly beautiful dream-logic, are James Tate’s “All Over the Lot” and Charles Simic’s “Early Evening Algebra.” More poems about dreams and sleep here. Write a matter-of-fact poem about a recent dream you’ve had. Don’t embellish; don’t editorialize. Write it straight.

Last week, as I’ve mentioned, we did Alternate Surfaces in class. Index-as-poem, driving directions-as-poem. These kinds of poems follow a different logic, and while not “dreamlike,” it’s one that doesn’t make immediate “sense” to the eye. Oh, but it’s such a cool way to stretch and tug at perception. You should do this too. Write a poem or story in a new form. Here’s what my students came up with. Poem as:


Craft Notes / 10 Comments
October 14th, 2010 / 10:14 pm

The Ipod as Writing Tool (Don’t Worry This is a “Clean” Post)

My Ipod’s become an instrumental (ha ha) part of my writing.

Charles Simic said something like “Chance is the key that gets me out of the prison of myself. Well, then in this way and in others also, my Ipod’s a key.

First, I use it to generate poems. I record bits and pieces and save the files on to my Ipod, organizing them into appropriate playlist. Bits of the news, pieces from magazines. Bits of fiction and pieces of poetry. Things I’ve heard people say. Descriptions of landscape. Whatever. Etc. Then using the Ipod’s shuffle feature I generate 10-12 piece units (the number can and does of course vary). This is a starting point block of text that I then manually edit on the page.

I also use my Ipod for editing pieces that I think are done or close to. I record these pieces and put them on a playlist. Then (in bed or walking around or using the bathroom–damn, this was supposed to be “clean”–etc etc) I listen to them and make the edits in my head.

When I’m stuck manually revising and need a bit of color for example (like Jean Follain said) I’ll use the Ipod’s shuffle to generate me plenty of word/phrase/image options from which to choose. And then I’ll play around with those “colors” and see if I can make something work.

Of course I also use the Ipod to listen to music while writing or revising.

And the Ipod’s also useful when I’m organizing a book or chapbook. I put the poems (pieces) in a playlist and then using the Shuffle I get these strange and sometimes useful sequences that I would have trouble coming up with on my own. And, in the end, I sometimes use some of these orderings the machine creates. At the very least it’s amusing.

I’m wondering who else may be using the Ipod in similar ways. Or differently?

And I’m also interested in knowing what other methods of chance composition you guys (and gals) may be using to lead you out of the prison (or into the labyrinth) of the self.

(Simic I think just used to randomly take books off the shelf and open them to random pages. And sometimes did this with James Tate. Perhaps in the nude, with pastries. Perhaps.

Damn, this was going to be “clean”!!!)

Craft Notes & Technology / 28 Comments
October 21st, 2009 / 12:00 pm