Archive for the ‘The Art of Writing’ Category

  • De-Canon: a visibility project

    Date: 2017.05.07 | Category: GIFTS OF RESISTANCE 2017: links, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    https://www.de-canon.com/blog/2017/5/5/writers-of-color-discussing-craft-an-invisible-archive

     

  • First Drafts, Broken Rules

    Date: 2017.03.19 | Category: Assignments, Imagining Love, Poetry, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    First Drafts, Broken Rules

    Someone said, and many have repeated it-where the rumor started, I don’t know-that a writer shouldn’t send first drafts out for the public eye.  But, I am a writer who makes up her own rules, does her own thing, ‘cause someone said, and many have repeated, a writer needs to take risks or she will just sound like the choir (although I do like the music of choirs, but the point is sometimes I need to sing alone).

    On another note, a writer I truly respect told me I revise the energy, the spirit, the meaning out of my poetry when I revise.  It’s true, revising for me is like shopping.  Once my cart is full, I throw out some things, others I put back and exchange them for another.  Sometimes I do this again and again.  This basket of strawberries.  No, this one, the similes are endless.  These tomatoes on the vine.  No, these are are full of contradiction.  Chocolate marshmallow fudge ice cream.  No, vanilla, subtle.  This bread.  Yes, give me all the nuts, the flax, the wheat-concrete images. Yet, sometimes I just say, be gone, be gone.

    Some say a writer must write every day, early in the morning in fact.  Early for me is 10 a.m., and by then I am already running late.  I write when I’m sitting in a class and the demand is to write following the guidelines of a particular writing exercise.  Surprisingly, I’ve gotten some good poems this way.  But, I don’t often sit in writing classes.  My norm is, when self-pity fills my lungs, when anxiety and fear punch my stomach, when country songs and chic flicks don’t soothe my troubled soul, I reach for my 3 x 5 or my 4 x6 index cards, my leaking roller ball pen, and I write.  I number the front, the back.  The stack rises. The purge releases words I don’t know.  There’s a rhythm too it.  A longing.  A stunning revelation.

    It’s been months, years, sometimes only weeks.  Yesterday’s sorrows became yesterday’s poems.  I read them over and over mouthing each sound, whispering, repeating, louder now, faster now.  Until, I’m inside out, exhausted.

    Awake now, today now, I risk giving these poems to anyone that wants them, anyone that might need them, anyone that wants to rip them apart and theorize them.  This is a selfish gift.  A gift nonetheless.  Someday I may want to return, to revise, to revision-to edit, and I’ll know where they are, and that they served me well.  And maybe you will not notice the blemishes, but the possibility.  And maybe your next poem might be about your great-grandmother or begin with “If truth be told” and maybe you will give it to the world pleased with its inception, free with its release.

    ©Sherry Quan Lee, March 19, 2017

     

    IF I TOLD YOU THE TRUTH

    If truth be told my friend is a born again Christian, my son is a redneck.

    If truth be told, loneliness is my demon and always has been.

    My sister does not talk to me my mood swings cause her stress; she’s

    done it before, stopped loving me when I loved a woman,

    and the woman, my mother, well my sister stopped talking to her, too.

    If truth be told, according to Mother, I am white, white, white, but I’m not

    and neither is she.

    If truth be told I’m not a writer, my advisor was right they didn’t teach

    me and somehow I knew it was my fault.

    If truth be told I don’t want to go to church, or book stores or plays where

    I know I either have to listen or perform;

    or comedy clubs.

    If truth be told I want to see my three-year-old granddaughter.  My nine year old grandsons.

    If truth be told the gig is up-shopping, gambling, even eating and though the smoke has

    already cleared I don’t need therapy or an excuse to hide my feelings.

    my heart is an old open book full of clichés, chocolate truffle smears, and tears.

    If truth be told I have been cloistered-it’s not my calling but my situation.

    If truth be told my car isn’t safe, my house isn’t breathing, I could in a wink of an eye be homeless.

    If truth be told I don’t want to fly I don’t want to wander; I haven’t missed anything in 70 years.

    If truth be told I’ve fallen before, but this time the fracture wasn’t worth mending.

    If truth be told I want to sing it is done, get over it, I am over it.

    If truth be told there is nothing beyond survival, I have nothing to give you, the world

    is wound too tight we can only untie knots, try not to slip on the laces.

    If I told you the truth I always wanted to be the clown the stand-up comedian the one no one

    would guess wasn’t me.

    If I told you the truth I wouldn’t tell you the truth but ease into your life.

    If truth be told being of a certain age is not what someone else says it is, not what you expect,

    and everyday is a question mark.

    To tell the truth today I looked out my window.  Satisfied.  Rocking. Back and

    forth, catonic-like, rocking.

    If I told you the truth the youth have the words, the works, the camaraderie, the meet and greets,

    the relationships.  Solidarity. Each other’s backs.

    If I told you the truth I’m not a bridge, never pretended to be one.   Every breath, every step difficult.

    If truth be told it’s too late for me to be anything, but

    righteous.  And, alone.  And, lonely.

    The truth is I’m tired.  It’s late.  I have [no] regrets.

    The truth is I don’t want to recycle.  Spin it anyway you want, but I won’t step outside

    my skin. The stretch is all mine.  Was mine.

    If truth be told the world sees no one, story becomes someone else’s theory, and you

    and I don’t meet online, or in a bar, in the future or the past.

    The truth is tomorrow, I might leave my house, walk to the mailbox, but today in this moment

    I’m in my pj’s, eating popcorn, watching Netflix.

     

    ©Sherry Quan Lee

    March 18, 2017

     

    Saint Patrick’s Day 2017 (1948-    )

     

    Dear red hair son of the Irish plantation owner do you know how complicated you’ve made my life?  You, so absent in your southern ways.  A prickle in history not so long gone, nameless, yet, ever present in my naming.  Did your father teach you not to fear consequences, did he tell you my great-grandmother was yours for the taking because he owned her.  Or did he say, hands off, son, she’s mine?  Money can’t buy everything, it certainly can’t buy complacency.  But, yes, Ms. Greer kept your house clean and the both of you, sons of southern hospitality, well fed.  And you, in return, paid her in lust, in rape, in pregnanc(ies).  Sure there were the rumors, you loved her, my great-great grandmother, her glistening, black skin and textured thick hair; strong legs, warm hands; but, it wasn’t a love story.  But grandmother was born anyways.  Beautiful, free, and independent.  It was her own doing she traveled North, married a man with his own black white history and the babies kept coming.  Mother denies she is born black, but if black was a lie, she would have nothing to lie about and I, her daughter, would have no truths to tell, secrets to uncover.  So many secrets that have filled books and heartache and joy- sometimes joy- knowing there once was a plantation and a red hair boy, but if she had only known she really needed only this, this one poem, this one little splash of green, a bit of humor, and a blind eye, if she only knew she didn’t have to give up her life to know who she is, if she had known.

     

    Sherry Quan Lee

    ©March 18, 2017

     

  • Sometimes the Easy Way Out is Not All That Easy or Why I (really) Chose to Edit an Anthology

    Date: 2016.12.30 | Category: Book in Progress 2016, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    Sometimes the Easy Way Out is Not All That Easy or Why I (really) Chose to Edit an Anthology

     

    The truth is I have wanted a book by a writer or writers of color (WOC) about the craft of writing for my own personal use as a WOC, and as a teacher of creative writing.  I was slow to admit that “craft” wasn’t necessarily what I was searching for.  I wanted confirmation that my experiences as a WOC weren’t unique, that I learned more from preparing to teach than having been taught, that words I used such as “passing jones” were okay to use even if certain people didn’t know the meaning of the word or if I was redefining the word, that just because someone else thought writing about race wasn’t trendy my stories were valid and valuable, and the list goes on.  When my publisher said to write the book I so desired, I eventually said yes.  But then I didn’t.  I asked, can I edit an anthology?  Again, he said, yes.  It’s true, I knew writers whose stories would fulfill my idea of a book by writers of color that would break the boundaries of craft or at least broaden the definition of it.  But, it is also true I didn’t feel like I knew enough, and couldn’t write well enough to write the book that I wanted to read— perhaps, because I’ve always felt stupid.  And even though some of you may be sighing and saying I’m not stupid, there is a fine line between what I know to be true and what others believe to be true.

    Nevertheless, I have just printed a copy of How Dare We! Write for an overall read before I push send and deliver the manuscript to our copy editor.  As a literary editor, I have never before edited an anthology.  Even though I thought an anthology would be easier than authoring my own book about writing, it wasn’t all that easy; I had much to learn.

    It was easy (okay, somewhat easy) to invite writers to submit their stories; it wasn’t easy to set and keep deadlines.

    It was easy to suggest the main theme of the anthology; it wasn’t easy to organize the many sub themes the stories brilliantly provided.

    It was easy to look at each story individually; it wasn’t easy to view the book in its entirety.

    It was easy to correspond with the group as a whole; it wasn’t easy to keep track of the 100s of individual emails that began back in May of 2016.

    I may have chosen editing an anthology over writing my personal writing/teaching journey because of my insecurity, but also because I was tired of my small world, of writing about myself (and as baby boomer it seems my time may be limited); there were writers I knew that had stories that needed to be told—24 stories versus one just made sense.

    What keeps me moving forward, trying to maintain self-imposed goals for completion of How Dare We! Write-handing the complete manuscript to the publisher the first week in February- is the enthusiasm for the project by the publisher, the writers, and the copy editor.  Word-of-mouth, there are already writers wanting this book, as far away as Norway I am told.

     

  • RESPONSIBILITY

    Date: 2016.03.20 | Category: Book in Progress 2016, Book Reviews, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    NOTE:  this is another in a series of  chapter drafts to be included in the book ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO WRITING:  A MIXED-RACE WRITER’S JOURNEY  (tentative title).  This particular chapter took me in a direction I wasn’t planning on traveling, thus the road is windy and full of rocks-the key word as always, draft (and why when I cut and paste does the formatting change?).

    RESPONSIBILITY

    In the beginning of any particular semester, I might ask my students what is the responsibility of a writer?—not if a writer has responsibility.  I might ask them to read “The Creative Process” by James Baldwin (Creative America, 1962), the poem “Responsibility” (New and Collected Poems) Grace Paley, and/or  “Meatloaf: A View of Poetry” by Nikki Giovanni (Racism 101, William Morrow and Company, Inc.).  Discussions are generally mild, and don’t go beyond two pat answers:  to entertain and to tell the truth.

    I’m not interested in writing to entertain, perhaps because my sense of humor is limited, my ability to write humorously is deficient (though I’ve been told my writing is often sassy or witty)—and what I write about, my life, is too serious to joke around with (granted some comedians can put a comedic twist on anything with grace, others not so much).

    However, as Joy Harjo states in The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (First published as a Norton paperback, 1996):

    If I am a poet who is charged with speaking the truth (and I believe the word poet is synonymous with truth-teller), what do I have to say about all of this?

    I believe truth can be expressed in several ways:  metaphor, exaggeration, and plain and simple in-your-face clarity.  Each or all of these forms can be used no matter what genre we are writing in.  Because I began my writer’s journey as a poet, I learned the craft of figurative language and eventually became aware of how I can/how I do use it in my writing.

    A poetry teacher frequently told me my poems are filled with imagery; I had no idea what he was talking about.  Now I realize metaphors and similes create pictures that are understood by way of comparison.  And the magic is that a reader can, and most likely will, transcribe the picture with the help of his/her own experience, so the writer has made a connection beyond his/her reality.

    The more I write, the more I notice I exaggerate the truth.  I am not lying.  It’s like hyperbole.  I am extending concrete fact into superfluous images.  Exaggeration may be expressed as metaphor; for example I’m not like all the Scandinavian friends I grew up with:

    Here I am a Minnesota mutant.

                    Snowflake.  

    Or, as a statement I know isn’t true to fact, but true to the point I want to get across:

    Mother cooked a white rabbit

                    in a black pot.

    Mother never cooked rabbit, but mother who is black, chose to pass as white.  I don’t consider the exaggerated image a lie.

    Or, I use words that play with imagery that exaggerate the meaning:

    My sisters and I rip out the tight stitches, laugh about the alcohol, the men.

    Instead of saying my sisters and I gave up our mother’s control , I use the more visual aspect of stitches which  refer back to earlier in the poem that tells the reader my mother sewed identical clothes for her four daughters.

    Although imagery enlivens a story or poem, I believe if a writer doesn’t want a reader to misinterpret what they’ve written as truth, the writer should be explicit in the language they use.  This type of honesty is so blatant those that can relate will appreciate or be awed by your downright honesty; those that can’t relate will be offended or defensive or apologetic—but, you’re not writing for them, or are you (that’s another discussion)?

    Husbands were always white, always financially able—always available.  They liked me sexy.  They liked me smart.  They liked me domestic.  They liked me drunk.  They were always gratuitous.  I ate meat and potatoes.  I lived in brick houses.  I owned stuff

    …Husband after hedonistic white husband enjoyed associating with me, the marginalized.  Because, of course I was trendy.  Yet each hunkered down, holding their top dog position.

    But, what is it we, as writers, are supposed to tell the truth about?  As a writer trying to discover and make sense of who I am, I had no time for nature poems.  Aren’t there more important stories that need to be told?  Don’t we as writers have the responsibility to tell them?

    The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.—James Baldwin

    It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times:  there is no

                    freedom without justice and this means economic

                    justice and love justice –Grace Paley

    Nikki Giovanni wrote:

    I have seldom read an interesting poem about the discovery of raindrops, or clouds floating by, or sunsets either…

    I hope, … that I am showing my students they must contemplate the world in which they live.  I believe their responsibility as writers is to have as much sympathy for the rich as for the poor; as much pity for the beautiful as for the ugly; as much interest in the mundane as the exotic….Look; allow yourself to look beyond what is, into what can be, and more, into what should be.

    Never say never, my sister always tells me.  When I discovered Mary Oliver’s poems, Linda Hasselstrom’s essays, and Scott Russell Sanders essays, and other writings which do contemplate the world, I knew the responsibility of the writer is also to read and not let our preconceived notions keep us from imagining and knowing a world larger than our own.  However, as I wrote this paragraph I realized I only mentioned white writers who write about nature.  Why haven’t I read nature writing by writers of color?  Subconsciously I probably thought we have more important things to write about—but I immediately Googled what writers of color write about nature?   And despite my bad grammar, here’s the first two entries I found:

    • Colors of Nature Culture, Identity and the Natural World, edited by Lauret E. Savoy, Alison H. Deming (Milkweed Editions; Second Edition edition (February 1, 2011); and,
    • “Toward a Wider View of ‘Nature Writing’” by Catherine Buni, The Los Angeles Review of Books, January 10, 2016.

    Buni writes:

    In 2009, [Camille T.] Dungy published Black Nature, a beautiful, widely influential, and redefining anthology of African-American nature poetry.  Spanning over 400 years, 180 poems by 93 poets…

    But Dungy continues:

    The most vulnerable are the least powerful, so they get the least coverage, and certainly the least precedent-changing publication.

    Thus, We have been contemplating nature and writing about it (or oral story-telling), but access has been limited.

    Now, thanks to my curiosity and Catherine Buni’s in depth essay, I have a few more books to add to my Want to [need to] Read list on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/) —including  Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, by Carolyn Finney (The University of North Carolina Press, June 2014).

    To Lori, a former student, I apologize.  I will not discourage another student from writing nature poems.  Actually, I have written a couple of them myself.

     

     

    Writing Exercise:

     

    1. What do you believe is your responsibility as a writer?
    2. Search through some of your stories and poems to discover how you have crafted truth. Do you use metaphor, exaggeration, or hard honest fact?
    3. Read: read something outside of your interest and, perhaps, comfort zone.

     

    ©Sherry Quan Lee, March 20, 2016

     

     

Artist Statement

Sherry Quan Lee approaches writing as a community resource and as culturally based art of an ordinary everyday practical aesthetic. Lee is a Community Instructor at Metropolitan State University (Intro to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing), and has taught at Intermedia Arts, and the Loft Literary Center. She is the author of A Little Mixed Up, Guild Press, 1982 (second printing), Chinese Blackbird, a memoir in verse, published 2002 by the Asian American Renaissance, republished 2008 by Loving Healing Press, and How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life, Loving Healing Press, 2008.

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