Monday, April 2, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #2: Laura Purdie Salas on Relaxation

It's day two of National Poetry Month 2012. All this month, poets are visiting Author Amok, telling us about their writing habits -- from tried and true daily practices, to outlandish rituals. My first guest is Laura Purdie Salas.

In addition to having a fabulous first name, Laura is a Poetry Friday blogger and a children's poet with over 100 books to her name.

When I visit elementary schools as poet-in-residence, I love to take Laura's books with me because they are so much fun. My students' favorites are Stampede and A Fuzzy-Fast Blur: Poems about Pets. (I just noticed that poets and pets are closely related. Hmm.)


I see a theme in the things Laura reveals about her writing habits. Lighting a candle, taking a bath or shower, and having a slice of something delicious -- all great ways to relax as she prepares to write.

Here's Laura:

I wish I had some kind of bizarre poetry-writing habit, because that would make me SO much more interesting! Like maybe if I could only write poetry while wearing a purple felt Martian mask. Or if I had to go outside and do seat drops on the trampoline for 5 minutes after each line. Or maybe if I had to eat key lime pie, one slice for each poem—yum!

But…I am a rather prosaic poet. The most unusual thing I do is light a candle—there’s the silver genii lamp a writer friend gave me last Christmas that I love! And there are also the electric candles I got after seeing them in yoga class. No chance of starting a house fire—yay! And of course there’s always a regular candle if nothing else is handy. Something about flickering light just helps me think better. No idea why.
And sometimes, if I’m really stuck, a shower or bath helps, too. Again, I have no idea why that is.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, though. I have written tons of poems without the aid of either candlelight or water. Really, the only unbreakable rule for me is telling myself first: “It’s just a poem. If it stinks, I can ditch it. No big deal.” That takes the pressure off so that I can dump words onto paper and see what my brain is up to that day.

Here’s a villanelle I wrote a few years ago that just earned a nice honor in a poetry contest sponsored by a pen company (ironic, since I write 99% of my poems on my laptop). The villanelle is a tough form! This one required candlelight, baths, AND key lime pie. The poetry trifecta!

Fierce
(a villanelle)

My friends do not have names. They’re fierce and free:
the owl who swallows dark, the pine’s fine quill.
Thanksgiving drains the darkness out of me.

A pack of gray wolves howl in twilight’s key.
The midnight moon slips past my windowsill.
My friends do not have names. They’re fierce and free.

Red honeysuckle bell forms nectar sea.
Magenta glazes fog-hat mountains ‘til
thanksgiving drains the darkness out of me.

Geese vector overhead in soaring vee.
The rapids tumble-pound on boulder’s spill.
My friends do not have names. They’re fierce and free.

Soft, cotton-covered mouse lives trembling plea.
While wrestling wing to wind, the hawk flies still.
Thanksgiving drains the darkness out of me.

A squirrel tears through cave of willow tree.
Feather grasses dance upon the hill.
My friends do not have names. They’re fierce and free.
Thanksgiving drains the darkness out of me.
-- Laura Purdie Salas
Posted with permission

Laura Purdie Salas

11 comments:

Renee LaTulippe said...

Love this post, and glad to see I'm not the only one who gets clarity in the shower. Surely it's the steam.

I remember sitting in a dorm hall at 3am as an undergrad, willing a villanelle to come out of pen for my poetry final project due the next day. Mine was disastrous - yours is definitely not! Love the "vectoring overhead."

Author Amok said...

Hi, Renee. I am infamous at home for dashing out of the shower and running to the laptop in a towel. All that water hitting our heads -- must stimulate thought.

Lisa Vihos said...

Laura, what a lovely villanelle. I need to get some key lime pie, pronto!

Thank you for sharing your rituals and especially for this thought: “It’s just a poem. If it stinks, I can ditch it. No big deal.” I like that one. Perfection (or at least a good-smelling poem) comes later. Perhaps after a nice, refreshing shower...

Author Amok said...

That part of Laura P.S.'s observations reminds me of William Stafford, who wrote a daily poem. Someone asked him what if, one day, the work wasn't that good. Stafford replied,"Then I lower my standards."

Robyn Hood Black said...

Great post, Laura and Laura! Some of my best friends are the "fierce and free" - such a beautiful tribute here. (And Author Amok Laura, thanks for sharing the Stafford quote, too!)

Linda at teacherdance said...

Does key lime pie really do this? Actually this is beautiful, Laura, & I do love that line "Thanksgiving drains the darkness out of me."

Susan Taylor Brown said...

Love Laura's villanelle and how nice it is to hear that she has no special magic outside of her immense talent that brings her beautiful poems to life.

I do like the water for inspiration but there are only so many showers you can take in a day and we don't get many storms here in California. :)

Tabatha said...

Great hearing from Laura! I wonder where you can get a genii lamp?

I like what she says about giving yourself permission to write badly! I was thinking yesterday that I should do my own NaNoWriMo, and that would definitely come in handy :-)

laurasalas said...

Thanks for all your nice comments!

Renee, whew, writing a villanelle on demand is tough, right? I remember writing this one mostly while walking around my sister-in-law's neighborhood in Atlanta, in the rain, with my little voice recorder in hand. We were in town for a family wedding, but I had a villanelle due!

Laura, I'm now picturing a writing retreat that consists of a mansion full of luxury bathrooms with waterproof laptops on small tables right outside the showers!

Lisa, thanks! (A caramel brownie is also a very good poetry ritual:>) And low, or better yet--NO, expectations are key to me. Poetry is all about the unexpected, so you hamstring yourself if you are always expecting things from yourself and your work on any given day!

Robyn, thanks! Reading this villanelle from a few years ago makes me yearn to get out into the wilderness.

Linda, thanks for the kind words!

Aw, thank you, Susan! I do miss the thunderstorms of Florida, actually. I wish we got more of them in Minnesota.

Tabatha, my genii whispers to me that you might try Ikea: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/26472200/ Genii lamp is probably the wrong description, but it's what it makes me think of:>) And yes! Get rid of those standards/expectations. They can only hurt your first draft!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Laura. Thanks for chiming in! I like what you say about poetry and the unexpected. Poet Liz Moser will be posting on that topic later in the week.

Maybe it's not about lowering expectations so much as this concept I've learned from yoga practice: meeting ourselves where we are. It's freeing to accept "This is what I can do today. It doesn't matter if I was 'better' yesterday. I don't have to improve by tomorrow."

Enjoy your writing day, everyone. After Laura's post, I have a vile vilanelle bubbling up. Will report back soon.

Charles Waters said...

Salas Power!!!!!!!!!