Saturday, January 31, 2009

Writer Must See

Dried Fern Detail

I write a poem. My sister sees it. Memories flood— creek days, lilac days, pine and pond days. So she writes within my poem, turns it on its side. Suddenly, surprisingly, deliciously, a different slice of past is brought to light. A past I lived but did not remember from that perch in the fir (she was a climber, never I).

Then sweet Ann says this (and I cannot resist putting it in poem dress)...

Sandra and you
are twins... words
in the womb
waters that you both
have birthed here,
sister lines.

You both
have this seeing thing
in your genes...

Ann's words happily recall for me lines from others (and from Ann herself) who have spoken about my book Stone Crossings. Like bookseller Byron Borger, who said, '...I want to write about something else, one of the best books I've read in a while...She has a great eye for details, and a luminous style that revels in God's presence in the day-to-day.' Or Eugene Pratt, who remarked, 'She possesses an eye for striking detail...' And Ann Kroeker who mentions, '...she offers...beautiful detail...'

All this talk about detail, about seeing, sets me to pondering. Maybe seeing is the beginning of good writing, whether poem or prose, comedy or tragedy. Perhaps the first task of the writer is to see or hear, taste or touch, inhale the moment that is right under his (or her) nose. Having done this, the challenge is not to let go of the memory in favor of abstract words.

Let's ponder this together, with an example from my own work. In 'The Watching' (previous post), I originally wrote...

of a mother's mud-patched efforts
to provide comfort and nurture.

But no. Is that what I saw as a child, when I leaned to look into the robin's nest year after year? Can you see comfort and nurture? This is abstractness and has little right to be in a poem (or good writing of any sort). So I went back to my memories and saw the single blue egg that would prematurely crack, ooze yolk. The single egg that was lost despite robin-mother's hard work. And I wrote this instead...

of a mother's mud-patched efforts
to prevent a deadly cracking.

To say cracking is a better choice. It is something we see, understand means death. (Now I think perhaps I needn't have even said deadly, so inherent is death in the cracking itself). Another nice thing happens with the new choice. Cracking has a rough sound that hints at the ominous nature of my childhood setting.

So here is the writer's challenge:

see, taste, touch, smell, hear. Write it down. Excise the abstract where possible. Choose words with sounds that mirror meaning. Suddenly, deliciously, a slice of life is steaming, fragrant, golden, mouthwatering.

If you'd like to try this, here's a line to open (or close or middle) with...

I close my eyes and I can still see... [try to insert a single setting here, or person, or activity, so as to make yourself focus on detail]

Try a short piece. A poem or a vignette (no more than 200 words or so). Take the writer's challenge outlined above. Publish it at your blog and let me know and I'll link to you. Then I'll choose a few to feature at The Seeing, at High Calling Blogs. Try to finish up by Thursday afternoon if you want to be eligible for a possible HCB feature.

I close my eyes and wait for what you will lift from the past... pressed white linens and shined silver, fishing rods and emerald dragonflies, the cracked window at the back of the red shed, lilacs pressed by chubby childhood fingers.

Dried Fern Detail photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Beth's Back from the Clinic
Rebekah's Little Girl
Katrina's The Hayloft
Laura's The Long Ride Home
Rain's Innocence Hill
nAncY's ~eyes closed~
Joelle's Pinto Beans
Hope4Today's I Close My Eyes and I Can Still See
Tina's The Journey
Sarah's Life is Not All About Forward Motion
Nikki's Seeing Detail, Writing it Down
Liz's I Close My Eyes
Unknown Contributor's vignette Pink Frilly Underpants
Joy's Seeing
Erica's Grandmother's Kitchen
Ann's Make Pearls

LL's Stand Still, Let Go, and See
Katrina's I'm Seeing, Noticing
The Seeing, at High Calling Blogs

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Blogger Every Square Inch said...

I don't think I'm up for your challenge but I thank you for the post. I think you've encapsulated in your post, an exquisite, profound lesson in writing.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you for welcoming this old broad into your classroom. I get so excited at these pearls of writing wisdom.

I will chew on these things a little while and post later.


2:44 PM  
Blogger beth said...

I appreciate the way you encourage us in this challenge to get rid of the abstract and see.

I tried...and wrote Back from the Clinic, posted here:


3:11 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I love what's come out of these challenges...truth is, my mind has felt too cluttered to respond, but it's so beautiful to see what people come up with, how the community overlaps and stretches with each one.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Hey, nice suggestion! Some of my poetic ideas have been far too abstract of late. I'll have to see what I can come up with.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Photographers use pictures to capture a memory. Writers frame it with their words. I will be trying your challenge. Thanks for the inspiration!

9:03 PM  
Blogger GratefulinGA said...

my i've been such a blog slacker and missed so many fine posts. it will take me a moment to catch my breath!

i am such a poetry geek and you have such a gift for all writing, but your poems slow my heart rate and tempor my breathing. Pure delight!

thank you!

10:41 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Wow, L.L. This does seem interesting. I'll bet you wrinkle your nose when you come to my blog seeing too many abstractions on it. So hopefully I can learn from you, even as I already have. From you telling me to write about myself, or put direct examples of myself, my life in my posts. I had to get used to that, and now I like it. (I guess (: )

11:39 PM  
Blogger Lorrie said...

Okay, now I'm squirming. Being abstract is a great fault of mine. This will be a good exercise for me! Your words at the end are an especially tasty lesson that challenges me :-)

11:40 PM  
Blogger Katrina said...

O.K.... so I wrote another one. I'm really not sure, though, it seems kinda long... with run on sentences and such. I wasn't sure how to pare it down, however, because I like each and every line.

Anyway, will you stop by and give your opinion or any suggestions?...

thank you so much for your help in all these wonderful blog posts! I really appreciate you! :o)

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a good lesson for me to focus on the less abstract in writing. I love how you encourage and inspire writing from here. I hope to be able to write like this someday:)

2:38 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Here is what I see when I close my eyes...

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many abstract word removing drafts later: and alas, I have a knack for the abstract! :)

2:31 AM  
Blogger Katrina said...

Dear L.L.,

Thank you for your encouraging and thoughtful response over in my comment box this morning concerning the poem I wrote. I really, really appreciate it!

My response to the question you asked is over in my own comment box.


10:17 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Every Square... thanks!

Laura... oh, gosh. You look lovely, young, vibrant! I'm glad to have you beside me, working together towards words that speak, bless.

Beth... Welcome to Seedlings. And I loved your poem.

Sarah... I wonder if you took some of that clutter and laid it out on the page... I wonder...

Lynet... yes, I would love to see some of what you see, or saw in the past.

Hope... looking forward to your contribution. : )

Grateful... favorite poets? Curious. And thanks for your sweet encouragements.

Ted... I too am quite abstract, so we have that in common. I think the thing about digging deep for detail (or anecdote, or example) is that others are able to more fully enter our abstractness on a footbridge of tangibility. Ultimately, this helps them experience the deeper point.

Lorrie... can't wait to see what detail you ease into.

Katrina... it is like you have discovered this wonderful red wagon. It is the coolest old thing that was sitting under an elm. Now you're taking it out, putting kids in it, hauling dirt and iris bulbs. And I can't help but laugh and clap my hands and do a little dance in your shadow.

Rain... we write and we write and someday comes. : )

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what I have learnt here is that by not focussing so much on the feelings in situation (which is where I usually write from), rather to focus on the physical details and by describing the picture, you allow the reader to form their own feelings about it instead of just offering your own?

... Waiting for someday ;)

4:04 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Rain... yes, that's it exactly. Then the writer's task becomes choosing those details that will most likely elicit the desired emotional/intellectual response. So if I were talking about lost love, I might choose to include the daisy that fell under the wagon wheel, as opposed to the baudy red bee's balm with its whorls waving on the zenith of the hill. Maybe both flowers were there in what I remember, but one communicates the center of the feeling better than the other. Believe me, I am also still reaching for "someday". So fun to discuss these things with you!

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm in!
just posted

6:14 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

footbridge of tangibility! yeah, that makes sense. just joking actually not, as the book I'm reading now is quite dense with at least 50% abstract language.

Yeah, I hear you. I still seek to incorporate what you said about me needing to speak more of my own life in my posts. So I had to add a small paragraph this morning with that in mind.

Yes, I find it interesting to be around people who just talk on and on about everyday things, simple events, happenings. Then I try to join in, and I think successfully so.

You certainly can't stop at abstracts. That's the one quarrel I have with the outstanding book I'm reading now. It does seem like it leaves one with so many abstracts. So that what the point is in real life, one is often left groping for.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm going to try to write to Blogger now. Hoping they'll fix the link problem. If not, I may just drop that feature on my blog. I'm really kind of disgusted by all these links on people's blogs, and the links from my blog on to yours this morning, are ludicrous! :)

5:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fabulous words about "seeing" and the penning of such vision accordingly.

You've been gifted with a set of extraordinary eyes! May God continue to shape and craft that "seeing" with the brushstrokes of his creative intent and promise.


4:18 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

just thought I'd drop in to say how very much I am enjoying your blog. Life is very difficult for me at the present so this is a much appreciated diversion! The poems are wonderful, the lessons I am taking to heart. hopefully I will be up to jumping in soon. God bless


4:44 PM  
Blogger Joelle said...

Thanks for the prod, L.L. Had already written something for tomorrow, but tweaked it a bit so it fit your theme perfectly. You'll find your words buried somewhere in "Pinto Beans."

6:30 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

L.L., Well I jumped in. You are truly blessed not only with a gift for writing but for teaching as well.


9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

L.L. , I have posted a response to your challenge at my blog Thank you for the challenge. It caused me to stop and really reflect on the words to use so the images created would pop. I hope you post more exercises. I look forward to participating in them again.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Not quite sure it's what you were after, but mine's up here.

1:44 PM  
Blogger TUC said...

I closed my eyes and tried to get into the past but something from the here and now kept butting in. A few days ago a teenage girl told me that when her little brother cries, their mother says something really mean to him. So I teleported into their livingroom and wrote about what I saw and heard there and how it makes me wonder about the nature of love. (

When I read my first draft I saw there was a lot of abstract weight in there. It was quite the exercise to tone it up and still I could use a few more laps around the track. Anyway, thanks for the challenge.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

I found this hard to do- perhaps it has been Ann's post's on dying and grief, I am not sure. But after writing what I have been 'seeing' in my dreams the fear is excised within me, and I can let it go.

For me, part of it is needing to be vague right now, but still wanting to express explicitly how I feel- so I found it hard to 'excise abstractness'.

12:40 PM  
Blogger RissaRoo said...

I finally posted's a little different, but I enjoyed writing it. It was amazing to me how much memory came back as I was writing, I didn't think it was in there but sure enough it was!

5:13 PM  
Blogger Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

I'm with Joy... (oh, I like how that sounds, in a soul-sense too!) -- thinking about death has made this a challenge... but I tried today. Or rather, I fumbled through...

Thank you for opening our eyes, L.L....

5:35 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Thank you all for these amazing offerings!

2:12 PM  
Blogger Miriam said...

Hello, L.L. I am catching up here - I'd been taking a break from blogging for awhile. I am delighted to find so many posts about writing here! Earlier today I posted a little reflection on my blog. It doesn't fulfill the assignment here, but could I be so bold as to ask you to read it and critique it? I have a feeling it is too abstract. I am just a baby writer and would love to have a pro's opinion to help me grow. Blessings to you, and I look forward to reading more of your recent posts later.

1:20 PM  

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