For the past two Sundays, we’ve been meeting here in one of the two composer’s studios at Montalvo Arts Center while I’ve been here on a residency for the month of March. I was fortunate to be assigned a Composer’s Studio because for part of the time, I’ve been collaborating with Composer/Cellist/Vocalist Theresa Wong on On Growth + Form, a series of poems and compositions based on the decorously ecstatic 1945 natural history compendium by Sir D’Arcy Thompson. More on this in another entry!
Because it’s been such a splendid place to have the writing studio, I thought it would be nice to meet here one more time, (even though tomorrow wasn’t on the regular schedule) so tomorrow we’ll meet at the regular time, 4:00 – 6:00. But as this is an unplanned session, I thought we could dedicate it predominantly to writing “exercises” rather than our usual structure (part generative exercises, part workshop, etc). Working with Theresa, and living in this acoustically plush studio for the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking alot about the relationship of language and music, and about the value in writing, of some equivalent to vocal warm-up exercises and playing scales, etc.
I sense a kind of stigma against writing exercises, but I’ve always found them to be useful in the way they can often allow you to come into a preoccupation from an oblique angle, or just loosen up some calcified habit. I was kind of amazed (and vindicated!) to hear Louise Glück, at her colloquium last month at Stanford speak in favor of writing exercises. I think of her as so delphic. But to be both delphic and in favor of writing exercises is not necessarily contradictory. – if you’re going to be an instrument, it’s good to be tuned – as CA Conrad’s oracular (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises so fully demonstrate. And now there are 27 of them gathered together in his new book, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon.
Yes, writing requires wide swaths of solitude, but there’s something very grounding in the hum of collective attention in the room when everyone is writing together. So we’ll play with that tomorrow and settle in and see what happens.
&, coming up: I’ll be teaching an all-day workshop at City Center on May 20, The Feast of Losses: Writing into Transience.