Prompt for July 31 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

Our new writing circle for teen poets has begun, and I was happy to find the group willing to talk about a John Ashbery poem this week. It’s pretty hard to talk about his poems! However, I think it’s easy to feel the pressures and questions in them, which is always something that young writers find interesting. Then this morning, I shared his poem “Rain Moving In” with a group of community leaders, and there was another good reception for Ashbery’s complex style of poem, with its simultaneously critical and hopeful attitude. I’m feeling bold now… here it is for you. See if you can borrow something from the language or imagery for your own writing.

Rain Moving In
by John Ashbery

The blackboard is erased in the attic 
And the wind turns up the light of the stars, 
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know. 
And if somewhere on this great planet 
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun, 
It will just hang on, in its own infamy, humility. No one 
Will be better for it, but things can't get any worse. 
Just keep playing, mastering as you do the step 
Into disorder this one meant. Don't you see 
It's all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires 
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial has been set 
And that's ominous, but all your graciousness in living 
Conspires with it, now that this is our home: 
A place to be from, and have people ask about.


(from The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, ed. Phillis Levin)

Join us at 7pm for our virtual salon on Zoom to share your writing and talk about this poem a bit with others. Hope to see you then!

Prompt for July 31 – Virtual Barat House

Perseverance

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm for readings and discussion.

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 12pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

A little more inspiration

“Perseverance” figured prominently in the news this week: as the theme for President Barack Obama’s eulogy for Representative John Lewis and in the NASA launch of Mars Perseverance Rover . The occurrences were completely independent of each other—President Obama did not relate Mr. Lewis’s work or persona to NASA’s mission (though his own journey was as remarkable), and NASA’s mission was named years ago (though long after the Freedom Riders demonstrated for Civil Rights).

Prompt for July 29 – Virtual Didier Dumas

Athena, is that you?

Sometimes the goddess is out. Sometimes you find a stranger in the sanctuary. Or maybe she’s come to your place, knocking at an unexpected hour, just to see how you’re doing. She doesn’t always dress the part.

Join our virtual meeting at 8pm for readings and discussion.

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Deeper dive into the prompt . . .

“Naked Athena” caused a minor sensation when she appeared at the #BLM protests in Portland, Oregon, wearing nothing but a hat and a mask, and stood down a line of law enforcement wearing riot gear. In the Willamette Week she is quoted: “I just wanted them to see what they’re shooting at.” In the New York Times, Mitchell S. Jackson questioned the value of such Portlandesque “weirdness,” a mark of white privilege, in support of Black Lives Matter in Oregon, a state founded on the explicit exclusion of Black people. Cf. this piece by Shamontiel L. Vaughan, who acknowledges that naked yoga by a non-Black protester is “noise” for the Black Lives Matter movement, but also respects a woman “showing how her own fragility still made officers step back and temporarily be peaceful.”

Prompt for July 24 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

The things we heard around campfires as kids might be the things that haunt our writings most. Take a little inventory for yourself — stories, verses, bits of gossip you listened to among grown-ups in summertime indolence. Let it spark a new piece of inspiration.

Write and then join us at 7pm for our virtual salon on Zoom. Readings, conversation and maybe some new memories.

Zoom Meeting ID: 810 6803 6209 Passcode: 325039

Prompt for July 24 – Virtual Barat House

The brightest star in the sky is invisible

During this time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, Sirius rises with the sun. This is why, although it’s the brightest star in the sky, we can’t see it in the summertime without technological intervention. Ancient civilizations associated the heliacal (“with the sun”) rise of Sirius with certain seasonal trends: a blessed inundation of the desert, a sinister season of heat and plague in the cities. What other superstitions or folk wisdom, real or fantastical, might be conjured from mapping invisible (heliacal or otherwise) stars and constellations?

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm for readings and discussion.

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 12pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

Deeper dive into the prompt . . .

We derive the “Dog Days of Summer” from Sirius’s invisible season in the sky, beginning some time in July and lasting until some time in August. The Farmer’s Almanac makes July 3 to August 11 the Dog Days for 2020; in Finland this year, the Dog Days began on July 22 and will last until August 22. I mention this in case you’d like to write some more about dogs.

Prompt for July 22 – Virtual Didier Dumas

The dog ate my grief

Feel free to apply a “fill in the blank” approach to this prompt. The cat scratched my sense of humor; the frog croaked my homework. Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Join our virtual meeting at 8pm for readings and discussion.

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

A deeper dive into the prompt . . .

In December 2019, O, the Oprah Magazine began publishing fiction online in Sunday Shorts. In what may or may not be just a weird coincidence, three out of six stories published so far use extended animal metaphors. Laura Van Den Berg’s “The Upstairs People” and Kristen Arnett’s “Birds Surrendered and Rehomed” feature a Great Pyrenees dog and a parrot, respectively, as metaphors for loss and grief. (In Arnett’s case, I can’t help also reading the story as a wry twist on Maya Angelou’s title, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”) Curtis Sittenfeld’s “White Women LOL” portrays a community’s pursuit of a runaway pet and the ways in which its own shameful weaknesses elude its control. Think you might have written something that’s a good fit for the section? O, the Oprah Magazine invites story ideas and other queries at the email address on this page. Oprah and her editors don’t explicitly seek stories involving animals . . . but now that we’ve read between the lines, maybe we know better.

Prompt for July 17 – Virtual Carson McCullers House

I’m reading a poem by one of my mentors, Leslie Ullman, in the new issue of Cloudbank, and I’m reminded of her lessons to me as I headed into my toughest summer, the one in which I was writing a master’s thesis while single-mothering. But that’s not the prompt. The poem, even with its title, “Use fewer notes,” opens the door to this reflective-imaginative opportunity. Take this excerpt inside with you.

   A lost summer blooms...

...we revisit less encumbered versions of

self, the promises
we half-kept and then
  forgot, replacing daydream

with modest achievement
    clutter of passwords
   and rechargeable devices designed

to relieve us of suspension, silence,
  the tease of uncertainty, chord or phrase
    that might have left intervals for what next?

Enjoy your writing time, and then join us at 7pm in our virtual salon for readings and conversation. Hope to see you then!

Prompt for July 16 – Virtual Barat House

In the night . . .

Thank you to River River writer and board member Karen Clark for the prompt, inspired by a friend’s insomnia.

Use the prompt to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir).

Log into our virtual meeting at 1pm here: Zoom meeting

If you prefer to post your work to our blog, visit Submittable after 12pm to upload your work. We will do our best to publish everything we receive.

And just because a new comet doesn’t come along every day, here’s a picture of NEOWISE, an in-the-night phenomenon viewable above the Northwestern horizon for the next few weeks.

NEOWISE photographed by Jim Tang over Emerald Bay, California this week

Memoir by Jennifer McArdle from our virtual circles

Learning to Lie

I was born in December, which means I’m a Sagittarius. They’re supposed to be blunt to the point of rudeness.

When I was a kid, I informed my mother about this aspect of my horoscope. She said, “Yes, that’s true.”

My dad often told me that he knew I didn’t lie, which made him proud. For most of my childhood, I am not sure if I actually was incapable of lying, or I just didn’t have any interest in it. I never cheated on an exam or on homework. I never stole anything.

Much to the annoyance of my parents, I also didn’t like lying when I was too old to get the discount for children under a certain age. I didn’t like lying when people gave me presents I didn’t like. I couldn’t lie to be sad when a relative died.

I did lie through omission sometimes; I remember when I was in third grade and had to switch seats with this boy who was always made fun of me and encouraged other boys to be mean to me, too. He had written under his name tag on his desk: “General. Captain. Hero. Man.” I erased all those things and replaced it with, “Stupid”. When we returned to our seats, that boy stared crying, and my teacher asked me, “Was it you?” I just kept coloring, but I never said No.

Continue reading “Memoir by Jennifer McArdle from our virtual circles”

Prompt for July 15 – Virtual Didier Dumas

For those times when you need to fill creative holes . . .

In the “cool tools” department, try an online “placeholder” generator to inspire your creation of new elements. These tools were developed by and for designers to easily generate dummy images in specified sizes—to fill holes, for instance.

I’ve set up this tool to give you a random 400-pixel-square image each time you click the link. If you’d like to play with other sizes or orientations, visit picsum.photos and follow the instructions.

Use the photo(s) you generate to inspire your work in any form (poetry or prose; fiction of any genre; creative nonfiction, essay, or memoir). Suggestion: choose one particular aspect of craft (character or persona, setting or landscape, narrative or emotional tone, for instance) for which the photo will be your guide.

Join our virtual meeting at 8pm for reading and discussion.

If you would like to share your work on our blog, visit Submittable after 7pm.