life, poetry, publishing, teaching, Uncategorized, writers, writing

My Hemingway Summer Plan

ernest-hemingway-401493_960_720When I was a younger man, I desperately wanted to be the next Ernest Hemingway of poetry: a rugged outdoorsman and adventurer extraordinaire who happened to scribble meaningful words. I think every writer goes through that phase sooner or later. George Saunders, for example, regularly confesses to a time in his life when he was striving for his prose to mimic that of “Papa.”

I haven’t fought any bulls or driven any ambulances overseas, and surprisingly enough, even though I reside in the Sunshine State, I have never landed a giant blue marlin (or any other large saltwater fish, for that matter). However, once in a great while, I encounter an opportunity that combines Hemingway’s two great loves: travel (usually in natural settings) and writing.

Such was the case in 2016, when I spent 16 days in Lisbon, Portugal. From the food to the language to the music to the memorable landmarks, that city and its surrounding areas made me feel like the reincarnation of some Lost Generation member — enjoying the days and nights in a European setting, chatting casually about artistic concerns with like-minded others. Even now, certain Lisboan influences still enter my work from time to time.

And this summer presents a similar (though more domestic) opportunity. For one week in early summer, I will be attending a writer’s retreat in the Cumberland Gap area of Tennessee. The natural splendor of the area combined with solitude should produce some favorable results. My plan is to work on poetry for half the week and prose for the other half, but we’ll see what the muses have in mind. I have two manuscripts in the works, and there’s no telling where creative isolation may lead.

Another perhaps more Hemingway-esque event that I’ll be helping lead this summer can be found at the Marywood Writers Retreat in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. While there in July, I’ll be leading poetry workshops and also serving as an unofficial fishing guide — A “fish with the poet” event has been planned, and, having never fished in Wisconsin previously, I’m excited by the prospect. Granted, I’ve caught plenty of bass, bluegill, sunfish, catfish, and other freshwater species south of the Mason-Dixon, but that’s a whole other world, from what I’ve been told. (Note to anglers — please feel free to drop good fishing advice in the comments section below if you’ve got it. I’ll trade you my “best” poetry advice.)

But whether I’m reeling in the big one or attempting to pen a masterpiece, I am hopeful that the spirit of Hemingway — the spirit that seizes the world by its lapels — will work its magic. And I hope that you too, reader, will find joy and inspiration as warmer months finally arrive. To good times and good writing: Cheers!


poetry, Uncategorized

Hemingway’s Distance

 When the great author of The Old Man and the Sea was in Michigan, he wrote about Paris. Likewise, when he was in Paris, he wrote of Michigan. In speaking with other poets and writers, I have found there to be a common link among creative types: The farther (in every sense of that word) we are from our dearest subjects, the stronger our writing about it becomes.

For instance, when I return to my family homestead many miles south of here, I am not automatically inspired to compose lines about it. The spirit of the place is too strong, too close. Also, the peace I experience there is too great for the fevered activity of poetry composition. The old place’s effect is soporific on my muse, but once I’ve left and I’m on the road or even back at my current suburban home, then the poetic flood begins to rise. Images, sensations, memories, and the whole of the family farm experience (past or present) sets itself heavily on my writing mind.

Time also serves as a literary “distance” filter: Consider Wordsworth’s famous lines above Tintern Abbey, written five years after the visit took place. By having hindsight, the truest and most poem-worthy elements of an experience can rise like sweet cream to the surface of our consciousness. The traumas and impressions of the present are intensified by having some chronological separation. Only the strongest details remain after delay. Sometimes this separation can be mere hours, other ideas may require years for processing. It all depends upon the severity and sincerity of the inspiration in question.

I am not advocating the idea that writers shouldn’t “strike while the iron is hot,” however. If one is overcome by the NEED to write at a moment, then by all means, don’t let that desire cool in apathy. The Beats would tell us that our first thoughts are our best thoughts, but the discerning voices before and after that generation would advise us to refine those first thoughts into something far more elegant.

The big picture is just this: If you want to create truly reflective writing, then some form of distance is necessary. It doesn’t always have to be as radical as Michigan to Paris, but stepping back from the subject is advisable for any creative endeavor. If you don’t believe me, just ask “Papa.”