Crooked Deals, by Hafiz

Before an inner critic workshop with my 9th grade class, I thought I’d look for a poem to read while we did power poses—something to fill the awkward moment of power posing in a room full of teenagers, something for inspiration. I took my copy of The Gift, by Hafiz, and I opened to this poem.

This was not active looking. I had not read this poem before. I could not have found a more perfect poem if I had actively looked.

The universe will provide! (And I’m eternally grateful to my friend Pegah for giving me this book!)


by Hafiz

(translated by Daniel Landinsky, in The Gift)

There is
A madman inside of you
Who is always running for office—
Why vote him in,
For he never keeps the accounts straight.
He gets all kinds of crooked deals
Happening all over town
That will just give you a big headache
And glue to your kisser
A gigantic


FREE Inner critic workshop (YS library, Oct. 22)

sculpture garden, Ogunquit Museum of Art (Maine)
sculpture garden, Ogunquit Museum of Art (Maine)

Please spread the word! It’s going to be fun!

For more info:

Inner Critic Workshop


Monday, October 22, 2018 (6:30PM – 8:00PM)
Yellow Springs Community Library
Virginia Hamilton Meeting Room


Rebecca Kuder is offering this engaging workshop that will allow people to rediscover and liberate a sense of play; unleash the creative spark; and demystify & disarm the inner critical voice that’s holding us back! Please wear comfortable clothing (always!). Please bring pen and paper.

Yet another reason I love teaching

Yesterday my students and I brainstormed on the board to get what poet Cathy Smith Bowers has called the lump of clay to start (writing anything, but in this case) making poems. We got lots of words on the board, narrowed things down and ran out of time so I said I’d write up something which, tomorrow, we will shape into poems (if possible).

Here are the two lumps of clay:

(This one is from the original phrase “burning house” which landed on cat eating tinsel, and there was something about getting attention, and then my cat inspired me in the middle of the night, so timely, so thank you, Zlateh. These line breaks were my first pass/how it came out. We will negotiate all and deal with the repetition, etc. tomorrow.)

Come, cat
come to where the hands are
or dance around the bed half the night.
I don’t need sleep.
It’s fine, but so much simpler if you would come to where the hands are,
or eat tinsel from the tree,
anything, anything to get my attention
but wouldn’t it be nicer
if you came to where the hands are,
to pleasure us both?

Traverse (or travel) the ridge of my body
bleating your needy meow.
It’s fine, it’s okay, I can’t sleep anyway.

Dance around the bed half the night,
the other half, walk the ridge of my body,
bleating your flat meow.
It’s okay.

I can’t sleep anyway.


(This one is from the original word “snow” which ended on glitter demon, idolized but evil. This one was extra fun for me, ahem. We’ll see about line breaks & whatever tomorrow in class.)


You consider yourself beautiful, all shine and polish and perfection. You stand upon that pedestal with such a casual air, as if you couldn’t fall from there. Every day you are reset, like a piece of machinery, you get up and just start a new day. You claim to be immortal. Silver and gold wrap the warp of your vile insides, and not one of us notices the cruel cutting you do, until it’s too late, until we’re bleeding in the glittery, hard diamond snow of this four-year winter. How much blood and history will we lose without knowing it before we wake up and knock you off that stool. You make me want to hate, if I could. I want you to shatter, I want to shave off all that lying gloss and sparkle, I want you to bleed like we are bleeding, I want instant karma, I want a recount, I want changes of hearts, for all of us, if not for you.

What we can control

(An old wheel, Casa Loma, Toronto.  Summer 2014.)
An old wheel, Casa Loma, Toronto. Summer 2014.

(Not much!)

But in reflecting on some of the work of my students, I wrote this in a narrative evaluation about gaining a deeper understanding of what it is to write and be a writer. I thought it was worth posting here:

It’s crucial to realize that if a piece of writing doesn’t come out perfect (and rarely does it come out perfect), it can always be improved. Knowing this (and living it) is much more important than any sort of inherent talent or inspiration. Doing the work is really the only thing a writer can control.

Step into the unknown

(Answer: A note and some foil that hid a banana cream pie.)
(Answer: A note and some foil that hid a banana cream pie.)

It seems I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in the unknown. Or maybe I’ve been here all along, and I’m just now realizing (or accepting) the way my feet feel on that cold, clammy ground.

Anyway, a couple of things I’ve read lately got me thinking that it would be okay to impose this idea on the students in my advanced creative writing class at Antioch College. (As with most of my teaching, I always feel like I’m learning more than my students, and certainly I risked imposing my shit onto my students in this case.) Last night, we tried this prompt, and I thought it would be fun to likewise impose my shit onto anyone reading this blog post. (If you try it, please post here about how or whether it works for you!) Here it is:

Writing prompt: Step into the Unknown

(inspired by Nick Flynn and Lynda Barry, February 2015)

Lynda Barry writes about the two questions that plague her: “Is this good?” and “Does this suck?” “To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape! Without the two questions so much is possible. To all the kids who quit drawing…Come back!” –Lynda Barry, What It Is, Drawn and Quarterly, 2008, p. 135

Nick Flynn, in his memoir The Reenactments, writes, “It was easier, when high, to take photographs than to write—photography requires focused attention, and I could focus when high, my world in fact was nothing but focused, reduced to a pinpoint, to a chunk of hash impaled on a pin. But writing requires both clarity and a willingness to step into the unknown, and there was nothing clear about my days, not then. Getting fucked up every day is about maintaining the status quo‑it has nothing to do with change, or the unknown.” (Nick Flynn, The Reenactments, p. 77)

If these ideas resonate, then writers must “step into the unknown,” and “stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape.”

Let’s try.

Start with a situation that you have in mind, one that is unknown to you. It might be something you are facing, a new phase of life. Or start with the phrase, “I don’t know” and do a freewrite.

Getting into character

September 2013: Snuck back into the Earlham College makeup room, where I used to get into character...
September 2013: Snuck back into the Earlham College makeup room, where I used to get into character…



I just wrote a note to one of my students, and thought it blog-worthy. I don’t think you need any back story, except that my student is writing a novel and the protagonist has some things in common with the writer, both having lost a beloved. Here’s what I wrote:

If you are comfortable with it (or maybe even if you’re a bit uncomfortable–stretching is really important!), spend some time reflecting on paper about your experience and how it might shape your approach to the protagonist’s loss. I think acknowledging this will be a way to make the protagonist’s story deeper and more authentic. (Do you know about method acting? It’s the parallel that comes to mind right now–where an actor accesses past experiences and emotions to help portray a character. In a weird way, this is similar. I think about this a lot as a writer, and do it fairly often, sometimes without realizing that’s what I’m doing.) I would really like to see this in your proposal. This linking who we are as humans to who we are as writers is the kind of reaching and growing that seems very appropriate in a graduate level writing program.

If you were to sort of skirt around it or not really “own” it, it might not get to the richness that is possible by owning it.

Joan Didion gets at a related something in her essay, “On Keeping A Notebook.” Didion writes, “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive or not.” Otherwise, as she goes on, these former selves tend to haunt us.

And as usual: I need to follow my own advice.

Magic (might be) where you find it

I have been ruminating about Lynnell Edwards’ question on the Red Hen Press blog, and wanted to post my thoughts here.

I don’t have a policy on vampires. I have read beautiful, strong, amazing prose in a variety of genres, including “literary realism.” I haven’t read Twilight or Harry Potter, but I have read Lord of the Rings. And though I don’t want to compare a television show to a novel, I do love “Buffy,” because the writing is excellent, the characters rich and complicated, and the issues they deal with (ethical, moral, metaphysical) are important and paradoxically what I would consider “real.” These are some of the same characteristics I would look for in a good novel or story.

Different genres have different sets of expectations from the readers, and publishers. It can be hard to run a workshop or a class with a mix of genres–if only because other writers, leaders or teachers aren’t necessarily familiar with all genres. That can make things tricky, especially when students are just learning how to operate within a workshop setting.

One problem is that writing students (and readers in general) may be reacting to having been fed more visual media or media tie-in books than original books within the fantasy and science fiction genres. But as small children, most of us read plenty of fantastical things. Dr. Seuss, Harold and the Purple Crayon are a couple things that come to mind. It makes me sad that so many adult readers lose access to what is magical in literature by way of shedding childhood and heading into the “real world.”

Ursula LeGuin has some interesting things to say about the genre silos, and the “literary” biases against fantasy. If this problem interests you, check out her essay collection, Cheek By Jowl. I find a lot of bias in academe against work that is other than literary realism. Magical realism is acceptable, usually, and a few other lucky or pushy writers who have slipped with their novels into the list of acceptable, despite the fact that they write science fiction. I am thinking of Margaret Atwood. She has protested long and loudly enough to have convinced many readers (who might disdain other works of “science fiction”) that she’s not writing it. If something can be translated or packaged as allegorical, it “transcends” the genre. (Even the word “transcend” bothers me here.)

Overall, I don’t care where my students aim to publish their work. If it’s good, it’s good. I strive to help students learn about what I think makes fiction work, what makes it strong, what might make it transcend whichever box it ends up being placed in by a publisher.

Or, to quote Shakespeare’s Juliet:
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet…”

And: There’s a Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick’s novels. So I guess he is another who slipped through the cracks.