Category Archives: writing

sexton, vonnegut, depression, and writing.


photo  by TommyOshima.

i’ve read confessional poet extraordinaire anne sexton a lot lately particularly as i have developed the series on depression that i started posting this week. i don’t think there are many people who have written about the disorder better than sexton. she writes about most things better than anyone else but depression is a particularly difficult subject to describe because of its tendency to eat away at your senses. sometimes, i feel like i have huge holes in my memories from periods of my life when depression strangled my world. i know a lot of people must feel that way because of the distortion that depression causes. how then do you write about something that you can’t even see clearly?

…   …   …   …   …   …

my favorite sexton poem: “barefoot.”
the poet of ignorance,” a poem about the helplessness of depression that particularly grips me.
lessons in hunger,” one of her last poems before her suicide.

 

i love sexton’s fairy tale reincarnation transformations and kurt vonnegut jr’s foreward in the book:

I asked a poet friend one time what it was that poets did, and he thought awhile, and then he told me, “They extend the language.”

Anne Sexton does a deeper favor for me: she domesticates my terror, examines it and describes it, teaches it some tricks which will amuse me, then lets it gallop wild in my forest once more.

–Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

i love his interpretation of her writing. sexton writes about the most intimate corners of her life but it never seems narcissistic or overdramatic; she allows a voice for every one of the emotions running rampant in you.

i remember the first time i read transformations. i was staying with an ex in brooklyn who had the most amazing little apartment. his roommate had decorated the living room with a small sofa, wooden statues that resembled different parts of a tree, and piles of piles of books in every corner. for days i wanted to walk around the room barefoot and touch all of the different books. i didn’t though because i’ve always felt like looking through someone’s book collection was too intimate for a stranger to do (his roommate was away on assignment in africa — i never met him) but my ex, a devout writer yet very reluctant reader, laughed at me and laid a giant pile of books on my lap. it was then that i found transformations and entered the mind of sexton for the first time.

i have yet to read any of vonnegut’s books (he’s on my to read list). however, i do love to read and reread his eight rules (particularly #7) for short story writing which are from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

He qualifies the list by saying that Flannery O’Connor, and other great writers tend to break all the rules except for #1.

i love the fact that he adds that little clause at the end about breaking the rules. rules and tips are great especially when writers are first developing their style and voice but who needs rules when it comes to creativity?


photo by Coffeelatte.  quote from the sexton poem “knee song.”
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maybe love and fear are just streams of consciousness.

some people can’t love at all because of fear. i’ve met most of them and foolishly loved them all. this piece isn’t about that but that would make for an interesting line to some other story i may write some day.

Photobucket

photo by garry.

***

i am scared.

it keeps me awake some nights. my heart beats so fast i have to let it loose. i breathe tiny baby breaths that don’t go anywhere and stare at the ceiling wondering if this will be the night that i lose my mind. some times i’m flooded with fear.  other times i magically disconnect; i am all alone in a tiny box and i can see fear on the other side waiting for me. if each fear is attached to a thought, if i don’t feed them, if i could just stop thinking, would they go away and let me live a lovingly zombielike existence? i would love to be a zombie for a few years.

is fear something inherently part of being a human that keeps things from being too easy? maybe some people don’t get scared at all. they label fear as stress and thrive from it.

maybe i should love fear. i should make it chocolate chip pancakes and sing it lullabies. we should do things i always wanted to do like sleep in a dirt field with nothing but stars and crickets everywhere, think about the future and not drown in the vastness of it, be myself, confront my childhood, move across country, and read my poems aloud to strangers.

the poetry reading — it wouldn’t have to be a performance. i could read despite my shaking limbs and sweaty armpits. it won’t matter if my voice quivers or if i look at the floor for half of the reading. there will be that moment when i leave my body and enter the spirit of the piece when they see the essence of me in poem form. i will touch them. i will breathe the gentle fire that burns inside of me and dare them not to feel me. then, i will walk back to my seat, take a deep breath, and feel the self-love spread through me and chase away the fear.

–lissa


untitled sadness


photo
by guiba6.

***

sometimes he calls me and i remember
what joy is like — a small explosion
that leaves quiet flecks of longing
in its wake.

around him i pretend loneliness builds bridges
in the hollow walls of my heart.
i smother the fire out of my sadness
by pressing myself against a tiny clump
of grey covers to keep from writhing
into an unacceptable wrinkle of rage.

if he wasn’t the god of my world
maybe i could tell him i cry myself to sleep
wondering if my destiny is enduring
the empty embraces of my cold winter arms.

i protect him from my sadness instead
and talk about the sixteen degree weather
how my body turned winter cold for hours
no matter how close i leaned against the radiator.

i laugh and the sound sticks to my throat
when i say i finished and published my book
about the seven steps to conquer solitude
because of the blessedly empty winters.

he laughs and tell me how easy i have it.
yeah, i say, wrapping the phone cord around my arm
closing my eyes to stop the sticky stream of sadness.

-lissa


what if i only existed when you read me?

photo by Dylan_Murphy.

reader, i’m on the opposite side of your screen. can you feel me?

reach your hand through the page and stroke the nape of my neck. there’s a brief moment where you can slip your hand through the pixellated colors of your monitor and feel the wires of the machine wrap against your wrist as you get deeper and deeper into the computer and closer and closer to my neck.

reach for me and i’ll instinctively lean my head towards your fingers and feel the ripples in the ocean of our love as your hand runs up and down my skin. when your arm starts to weaken from the incredible stress involved in being in so many worlds at once, i’ll let out a soft whimper as i start to feel you pull away.

i can’t make my own ripples or contain enough love to fill a puddle of water. i’m not really an animal; i can’t sustain myself. i belong in the plant kingdom. i’m mostly broken. i could break and scatter the rest of myself into a small patch of soil and become something beautiful that you could keep in your sunroom and water each day. i would learn to grow tall, leaning towards the direction of your voice. i could live for you.

when we’re once again on opposite sides of the computer screen and you don’t know what to say to me because of course i can’t be your plant and you really are tired of my sad poems weighing you down, i’ll type “don’t worry. this is fiction.” you can breathe a big sigh of relief as you turn off your computer and decide on what you’re going to make yourself for dinner, completely unaware that without you, i am darkness.

–lissa


when you look at me, what do you see?

***

readwritepoem prompt: start a poem with the line when I watch you

when i watch you, you grimace and stick your tongue out. you give me the middle finger. you pull your collar up around your mouth. you stare back, determined to win this contest. you turn your face slightly to the right so i can only see your profile. you slowly lower your bra strap. you reach your hand down my sweat pants. you kiss the corner of my lips, watching me until the closeness blurs me from you.

“what do you see?” you ask. you point to the chicken pox scar on your forehead, which i kiss; your curly hair, which i stroke; the slightly forward way your shoulders arch, which i envelop.

“i see you, leaving and returning to me. shy, brave, sad, joyful little flashes of you; i love them all,” i say.

you blush, and turn off the light.

“now what do you see?”

“you happy. i can hear your smile.” i trace the curves of your lips in the dark with my fingers, and hold you close until you pull away.

“and now?”

“you scared to be happy for too long.”

–lissa


cheery rainbow piece

***

The day he left we sat barefoot in the dirt, leaning against an orange
blanket, waiting. He dug his hand under my shirt, resting it
beneath my bra strap. He said he loved me. Or he called me beautiful.
They were the same to him.
I remember him smelling like laundry
detergent, his feet making lozenge
shapes in the dirt, and the tears,
his or mine, that crept into our kisses.

I loved listening to him breathe —
wheeze silence wheeze.
We would drink red wine or play scrabble or read Anne Sexton
poetry. Always Sexton — the only poet we could agree on.
“Maybe we would like each other’s poems,” I said,
my naked foot stroking his leg.
“No. You would see too much in mine, and
yours, yours, I’m afraid I would hate — cheery rainbow pieces,”
he said.

I saw his chapbook at a friend’s house today.
He wrote this love poem:
“The most important part, I guess
is that I love you –
the vulnerable way you can be at night
when you are falling asleep
and we hold each other
for the first time that day.
I’m tired of hoping
that you will become someone
new to me the following morning.
Someone worldly, or good for me.”

I tried not to see too much but my name was the title.

That night I wrote him a bedtime story:
“Maybe when you fall asleep tonight,
you can dream about yourself,
broken repeatedly then put back together —
a dream that includes everything you’ve
done to me. Maybe feeling what I feel
can change you.
Or maybe, just maybe, you can slip into
your sleep and stay there.”

Cheery rainbow pieces indeed.

–lissa

inspired by totally optional prompts