Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Writer's Notebook featuring Jenifer Browne Lawrence

We are delighted to feature Seattle area poet, Jenifer Browne Lawrence, in our Writer's Notebook series. Jenifer is the author of One Hundred Steps from Shore (Blue Begonia Press, 2006) and her work has appeared in Court Green, North American Review, and Potomac Review, among others. She is also the recipient of a Washington State Artist Trust GAP Grant.
Jenifer's poem From Involution appears in Crab Creek Review's Fall/Winter '09 issue, and here the poet talks about her writing process:

Last weekend, the wind blew hard enough to knock out the internet connection for a few hours. At loose ends, my partner and I opened our (paper) notebooks and wrote together. We gave each other writing prompts as the sky turned black and freezing rain pelted the glass. The storm blew in and out overnight, and brought a few pages of words written in the dark. Sunrise brought a clear sky and a bald eagle to the battered Douglas fir outside our window.

I don't know how the rest of the world writes, but I have a confession: At the top of the page, I have no idea where I am going. In fact, I seldom begin with an idea at all. Writing, for me, begins with words—a phrase from a novel or poem I've been reading, a newspaper headline, or a fragment of speech I've overheard somewhere. Waiting for the ferry the other night, I eavesdropped on a cell phone conversation, and stole this line: "If you eat red mango three times…" The line is waiting for me somewhere, just outside the margin.

I am a vivid dreamer. Occasionally, I dream in words. Printed or spoken, a word may be the only image I recall upon waking. I like the idea of word as image, and perhaps this is why, when I open my notebook in the morning, the first word I write is outside the margin, prompting me from the top of the page.

This morning my dream contained the word Star. It was the name of somebody's dying grandmother. Perhaps a poem will come from that image. Written in snow that was stuck to a car window, a previous dream contained the words Mr. Soft. Nothing has come of that, other than a raised eyebrow from my partner when I shared the dream with him.

A word from a dream prompted a series of poems using various definitions of the word, coupled with personal or world events. In that dream, (I'll spare you the embarrassing details) a list of songs on the back of a CD included the title Involution. When I woke, I looked up the word's definition to see if it held any significance for me. I was surprised to find nearly a dozen entries in the dictionary. The poem Involution (7) began as a response to one of the definitions combined with details from a brochure about a behavioral therapy treatment method. If I were writing the piece today, however, I'd have to rethink item 4a: because look who's running the country.

I have never been the type to wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the image of the nation's latest heartthrob. Maybe that's because, even at seventeen, I knew that Mick Jagger's face did not belong on any woman's chest. Although if Hugh Jackman could sing Satisfaction as well as he plays Wolverine … lately, though, I have been sleeping with the image of another man. I've been wearing one of my partner's t-shirts as a nightgown. Printed on the shirt is a pixilated image of Barack Obama and the date 01-20-09. But it's not the shirt influencing my dreams these days. Even as spring resists entry into the northwest—yes, we did have snow in the Seattle area in April—I believe we are heading toward a warmer world, a more compassionate world, that is. After all, if Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama are hugging in public, can world peace be far behind?

I love how writing begins with a sense of not knowing (That's not an original thought—who was the writer that first talked about "not knowing"?). By the time a poem or story makes a path into the world, however, the words should be measured and deliberate. Sometimes meaning takes a long time to discover. My writing progresses in small steps—a word at a time, some days. After a longhand draft, I type up what's there and print it out. I fiddle with the poem a little while, then slip the draft into a manila folder, where the words sit, sometimes for months. What I find in the folder often surprises me. For me, coming across that unexpectedly perfect line is one of the great pleasures of writing. It doesn't always happen like that, of course. There's a lot of revision, editing and thumb-biting involved in the process. And sometimes there is no path. Sometimes I slip the page into the recycle bin and pick up my notebook. Maybe I catch the Seattle ferry, hike to Pike Place Market, where I wander among the stalls, on the lookout for red mangoes.

From Involution

Involution (7) the process of raising a quantity to some assigned power [syn: exponentiation]

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is often a result of childhood experience in the family of origin. A family skilled at secrets fosters the ability to cope by learning to covertly control most situations. When the control is threatened, anxiety emerges. Psychologist Albert Ellis in 1955 developed a type of therapy designed to help an individual reshape his or her thinking to a more positive, rational pattern, thereby relieving emotional distress.

He named his work Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). It is not pronounced "rebbet" and is not a frog. That is, if you kiss this therapy goodbye, no prince will magically appear to rescue you.

Ten Irrational Ideas:

  1. It is critical for a person to be loved and approved of by everyone for everything.
    1. Because you were always/never daddy's favorite.
    2. Because you were always always/never.
  2. A person must be competent, adequate, and successful in every aspect.
    1. See irrational idea 1a.
    2. See irrational idea 5b.
  3. Certain people are bad, evil or villainous and should be punished for their sins.
    1. Because Cain slew Abel.
    2. Because Santa Claus keeps a list.
    3. Those heathens next door.
  4. Human unhappiness is externally caused. People have little control over their sorrows and are unable to rid themselves of negative feelings.
    1. Because look who's running the country.
    2. Because in sorrow shall you bring forth.
  5. It is justifiable to be completely preoccupied with and upset about something scary and/or possibly dangerous.
    1. Because why are we supposed to be boyscout-ready?

  6. I said that's enough, young lady.

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