I started a poetry journal during the pandemic. ONE ART: A Journal of Poetry. I have also worked for a number of years as an editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal, which has been going strong for 30 years now. I offer services for poets. Soon, I hope to coordinate poetry workshops.
I started ONE ART when I did because I finally believed I had enough editorial experience to make good decisions and, moreover, to do a good job wearing all the necessary hats. A good editor has to try to see from all sides. This requires a strong sense of what it feels like for The Artist who is submitting work to you. You need to know how to be a good literary citizen. A good artist knows the importance of stewardship in The Arts. You don’t usually start out with this; in fact, maybe it’s best that most artists do not. You start out hungry. You want to be heard. But, sooner or later, you realize you want others to be heard too; equally as much if not more so. You want to help voices that matter to you be heard by others. You want the honor of making those voices rise up. This is the important work of editors.
I’m impressed with a person like Larry Robin of Moonstone Arts who calls himself a “Facilitator”. Larry owned a bookstore in Philly for a long time and now facilitates a reading series. I love that Larry is simply an advocate for other artists. He’s not in it for himself. He’s a listener, an appreciator and, in turn, an invaluable resource. We need more people in The Arts like Larry.
Artists are not Creators 100% of the time. You already knew this. It’s wishful thinking for the majority of contemporary artists to have worry-free days lounging around, meditating, taking long strolls, juicing, until the so-called muse strikes. A few years back, I interviewed Cameron Conaway, author of Malaria: Poems (Michigan State University Press, 2014). In the interview, Cameron talks about “curiosity block” as a more realistic way of encountering and combating the concept of the dreaded “writer’s block”. Stay curious. That’s the message. That’s the message I also took away from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing about “The American Scholar”. Stay curious. Be a lifelong learner. This is how The Artist achieves their Fountain of Youth. This is how we stay forever young.
Be like a dog. Dogs don’t see the world as good or bad, dogs smell everything on a spectrum of interesting. Some things are potentially more interesting than other things, but everything is interesting. Even the nasty stuff, yeah. Don’t get bogged down in the nasty stuff though. As they say, “Garbage in, Garbage out.”
You do not need a four hour block of time to write. This is a myth. Well, there are caveats. Any novelist right now is doing something with their hands. And their face is probably contorted in a visage that is not super friendly. Some artistic endeavors require chunks of uninterrupted time. This is why artists have studios. This is why artists need getaways, residencies, retreats, a room of their own. This is why people talk about flow. All that being said, you specifically most likely do not need a four hour block of time to write. You need a little bit of time to get some headspace. You can record yourself while you’re driving (Disclaimer: please be careful if you try this) and transcribe a draft later. Former poet laureate Ted Kooser walks around with a stack of index cards in his shirt pocket. Aside from that being kind of adorable—it’s also a good idea. I’d encourage trying to keep a stack of index cards handy. They’re a great tool in your artist toolkit.
Some things you can’t change. Some things you have no control over. Focus on the niche areas you can recreate and rejuvenate within your orbit.
I have to come to terms with the fact that “adulting” is a well-accepted verb. It’s inescapable. I remember telling my mother I thought the term was dumb and then she said she thought it was actually funny and useful. Sigh, well, ok, so adulting is a thing. And of course it is. Because none of want to do any of the things embodied in the concept of “adulting”. Adulting is the “rise to the occasion” junk that takes up way too much of our time. Time, as the old saying goes, is all we really have in the end. One of The Artist’s primary goals must be to buy back their time. Capitalism wants your time. You need to steal it back.
Life will try to separate you from you art. Life will try this over and over. A good percentage of the time you can fight back. You can steal back spare moments. The Artist’s life is not a direct path. It is circuitous. Take the odd jobs.
Don’t try. Wait, what? Charles Bukowski famously says, “Don’t try.” This is absurd. Trying is what makes art, Art. I encourage reading Robert Frost’s essay “The Figure a Poem Makes.” In this essay, jam-packed with all sorts of sage insights, Frost discusses about a now common sentiment that boils down to essentially saying if the creator is not moved by the work than the person encountering the work is unlikely to be moved by the work. Lazy hobbyists don’t try. Artists try.
Mark Danowsky is a Philadelphia poet, author of the poetry collection As Falls Trees (NightBallet Press), Editor of ONE ART: A Journal of Poetry, and Senior Editor at Schuylkill Valley Journal. He is also Founder of the poetry editing service VRS CRFT.
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A wonderful essay.
Thank you. One Art has become my favorite journal, print or online. I am beginning to understand why.
Yup, I agree with our mother …but what I did want to say, as someone fairly new to writing poetry, that I liked your simple and accessible distillation of the “creative process” (I know that sounds pretentious, but this early in the a.m. it’s what I have..) from the act of writing to “curiosity block” Thanks…every little bit helps…