blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1

Contributors on Process

Alice Bolin
   Some Lists

Dexter L. Booth
   Self Portrait as a List from
   “My Favorite Mistakes”

Claudia Cortese
   What Happened to You
   Happened to Me

Michael Croley

Elizabeth Denton
   Glimpsing the Glimpse

Thomas DeSanto
   The Slow Crawl

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller
   Negative Magical Thinking

Cynthia Marie Hoffman
   Listening for the Book

Corey Van Landingham
   The Meaningful Monster


Since 2007, we have invited contributors featured in our annual Introductions Loop to comment on their creative process. This year, Alice Bolin, Dexter L. Booth, Claudia Cortese, Michael Croley, Elizabeth Denton, Thomas DeSanto, Joshua Gottlieb-Miller, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, and Corey Van Landingham step up to the task.

Alice Bolin welcomes the fertility of the smallest starting points, from collected images and words to lines from her own poems, allowing a compass of associative possibility to guide her writing. “The poem whose situation is discovered, rather than imposed, is what I’m going for,” she states.

Dexter L. Booth writes with a paintbrush—that is, through painting, drawing, and sketching in his notebooks, he learns about his subjects in new ways. He explains, “A single stroke of color, an unexpected drip of ink, or a shift in perspective is enough to spark an idea of order that can only be expressed in words.”

Claudia Cortese seeks solace in an outside voice that allows the self a relief from its own persona. “Lucy is an amalgamation of me and my girlhood friends,” she notes. “A character I created, Lucy doesn’t bear the weight, the accountability of an ‘I.’ She let me explore the scary truths of my Midwest adolescence, giving voice to a girlhood of slap bracelets and sisterhood, date rape and Pabst Blue Ribbon.”

Michael Croley describes a process of extensive drafting and revision he employs to “track” a story’s central intelligence, that elusive “kernel” that gives a story authority and truth. “It’s when the story becomes something that is both part of me but also apart from me,” Croley writes, “and the knowledge that spills forth is not from my conscious mind, it seems. This extra-sensory feeling is what draws me back in again and again.”

Elizabeth Denton explores the idea of narrative distance, using Henry James’s concept of “the glimpse”—a snippet of gossip overheard at a party, an intriguing stranger one passes on the street—as a starting point. “It’s all in knowing what distance is right for you,” she advises. Instead of crafting stories that hew too closely to lived experience, or choosing material too unfamiliar to render with appropriate depth, Denton has learned “what my proper distance from my material is: glimpsing distance.”

Thomas DeSanto writes to explore questions raised by the uncomfortable fact of mortality—if not to answer these questions, then at least to probe at their existence. “Through my writing, just as in my day-to-day living, I try to figure out the meaning of this life,” he admits. “However, with every question seemingly figured out, two more surface—like Hercules slicing heads off the Lernaean Hydra.”

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller is inspired by the interaction between closure and, conversely, the possibilities that stem from uncertainty. “Anything can be made to connect . . . so it’s perhaps more artful to tease the connectors as far apart as possible without losing an intended meaning between them,” he observes. “Even when a poem asserts its last image with finality, the first ambiguities hang underneath, as in a palimpsest.”

Cynthia Marie Hoffman begins with lists, gathering information and writing around a subject until the voice of her speaker emerges. “It may seem simplistic, but without a speaker, there is no poem,” she states. “Even if it is the voice of the poet, a poem must have something imperative to say. So I listen carefully.”

Corey Van Landingham attempts to steer clear of “meaning” when she writes, but discovers that, by the end of each poem, “meaning” is a beast she cannot tame. “I love it,” she reveals, “when, after I’ve done all I can to avoid it, meaning creeps up and starts breathing down my neck.”  end

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