Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guest Blogger Rosalind Brenner on Finding Inspiration by Dusting Off Your Old Journals (and how an assignment can’t hurt either!)

Rosalind Brenner is a writer, frequently exhibited painter/stained glass artist, and innkeeper.  Her newest book of lyric and narrative poetry is Omega's Garden, just out from Finishing Line Press. Another, All That's Left, combines her art and poetry. She lives on Long Island, where she and her husband, photographer/artist Michael Cardacino, operate Art House Bed and Breakfast, in the historic Springs section of East Hampton.  Recently I had the pleasure to work with Rosalind on some of her wonderful nonfiction pieces, which she's experimenting with for a future book that will mix poetry and prose.
Please welcome Rosalind Brenner.

I’ve been rolling around on the wheels spinning my brain, trying to think of subject matter for this guest blog post. I had just finished another guest post. Easy. Something I know about: the value of sharing poems with friends who are good poets and offer great critique; and the value of prompts. These two subjects went together with no trouble, for I’ve been doing exactly that with four poet friends with whom I graduated in 2009 from the MFA Poetry Program at Sarah Lawrence. We meet once a week on Skype, write from our own sometimes serious, sometimes silly, prompts, and then happily slice and dice, slash and burn and suck in gerbil breaths of admiration in the hours we are together. We end up with well-polished poems, many of which have been published.

But now, asked to write another guest post, I find myself in a slump. Usually, I turn to tried-and-true methods for poetry writing: reading others' poems to inspire myself. A word or phrase triggers the little gem which until that moment has been hiding from me, and voila, I write.

But lately I’ve been having trouble with dry eyes. The medicine is making it hard to read and to stare at a computer screen, not to mention that I’m aggravated as hell by the constant physical irritation. Try as I may, my eyes, about which I’m thinking all the time, have not become an inspiration to write some ‘woundology’ piece for this blog post. Damn, I don’t want to be a whiner and that’s how I’m feeling. So what do we do when dry eyes or other maladies, mental and physical, turn into dry times for us as writers? 

Meanwhile, in my quandary, yesterday I sat in the sun and wondered if my life is worthwhile and what’s the point anyway of all the reams and reams of journals, notes, beginnings and actual finished poems? Why should anyone want to read what I write?

I tried to assuage my lack of motivation and my self-pity by remembering the book, Writing Down the Bones, in which Natalie Goldberg, besides offering ideas for writing and tools for awakening the dormant spirit, gives writers permission—no !—advice, to take three days off and stay in bed and to be alright with that.


I managed one day doing nothing and not feeling too guilty about it, and then today I climbed the stairs to my writing desk to write this post, blurry eyes and all, about the poet’s dilemma. How can I wake myself up? How can I surprise myself? How can I make old information new or find new ways to talk about my own experience? I’ve already written quite a lot about matters of importance to me and hope that perhaps one line or two has struck a universal chord— for those few who read poetry and find their way to my poems.

But we go on, don’t we, because poetry heals, poetry relieves, poetry is the universal language. Even people who insist they don’t understand or like poetry, sway to its truth at weddings, funerals, inaugurations, graduations, demonstrations or in quiet moments of need.

I look around my office. I see the pile of scribbled journals. I think, yes I’ve already written about things that interest me, but not everything I’ve written has become a poem. I open one of my old notebooks at random. Ah, there’s something— I was obviously at play with the idea of making a triolet on a summer day:


Here people color the world with umbrellas
umber sand is passage for a stray balloon
offshore breeze laps at blue and red and yellow
and pinks the ruffled mob of parasols (umbrellas)
here people color the world of bumbershoots (umbrellas)
being human here feels cool sherbet mellow
the way the tide pulls at the constant moon
here people color the world in parapluie (umbrella)
and umber sand is passage for a stray balloon.

Not necessarily a finished work, nor a classic triolet, but maybe something to give me the pearl I need to begin again.

Here’s another journal entry; I was obviously looking at a painting by Redon. I don’t really remember, was I looking at his “Ophelia Among the Flowers?” Hmmm. Where are the Greek keys? No matter. Maybe I can find something here.

Redon’s ghost remains inside his painting.
Rust becomes rose as he dips his large brush into lush paint
Orange flavors the bristles. He slides color into canvas, into being,
into other, in strokes that keep his ground
a mystery of application and vision. Lavender spirits
surround a blue violet vase,
Greek keys appear and disappear on the surface,
flowers push their way out of the picture plane.
Redon still holds the brush, his oils juicy
heart absolutely humming with the moment.

 I think maybe these might have something worth pursuing.

Again, on a dry day, some long forgotten journal entry can take me out of the doldrums. It has today. For not only have I found a fit subject for this post, but I can feel something stirring me to re-visit these unfinished writings.

One day very early in our relationship, I was looking at my husband’s finger, a stump, cut off in a climbing accident when he was nineteen, long before I met him. I scribbled a note about how horrified and almost repulsed I was the first time I saw his cut off finger and how that feeling disappeared.  On second look, the entry made me think how our relationship has molded both of us, aged us, but made us more content and compassionate, and how we are grateful for all we’ve found together.

Here is the first draft poetic result of my new look at those scribblings.


his missing digit a sliced off stub
how would he meander over my quiver
when he couldn’t even hold it     but I was filled
with fishing lust and the river cannot reverse
its downstream flow     on the slow crawl
bus to nowhere men and women
cram on Wednesdays    come to eat
donuts and to get their feet manicured so attraction
can start below its normal course and does not include
the list of usual sights in their front yards

lust drove away and left us wrinkled
waiting for the next stop    but still in love
it’s seniors discount day at the IGA.

This method of random searching through old work could serve you too. Find your  journals. Open at random. Once inside, you will swim through memories. Copy one line. Let your thoughts ramble into a free write. Take a walk to a coffee shop or to the beach. Cradle the old notes, a pen and an empty pad. 

Take off from the memory piece into the scene around you. Maybe the bearded man that looks like Santa Claus drinking coffee in the next booth reminds you of your ex husband. Maybe seeing this stranger can trigger your muse from your re-read of that line in your old journal: “He sat all afternoon squirming and running a dental pick over his teeth in his living room piled high with bird books while I tried to talk to him about our sons. What an idiot I was…” and you find an empty page in your old book and write:

‘this closing air of  new October
reminds me that his voice, cracked
from surgery,  chords removed,
is fixed now
silence, not a bird to watch
in his fledgling nest…’               

If you don’t keep a notebook with you at all times, better start. There are pearls inside that can’t be strung together otherwise. How many times have you thought of a poem or a line, or heard a bit of dialogue and forgotten it?  So mine those journals. Discover. Uncover. The possibilities are waiting to be unearthed.

And certainly it helps to be asked to write a blog post. This one especially has led me out of the desert. 

Notes from Lisa:  We will be sending a complimentary signed copy of Omega's Garden to one blog reader who leaves a comment below (chosen at random). Might be interesting to talk in comments about how old notebooks inspire your writing. For your chance at the free book, please comment by midnight (EST) on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

You can see Rosalind's artwork combined with poetry, in "Shadows” at Ashawagh Hall in East Hampton, Oct. 25 - 28,


Ilia said...

Reading these snippets of your poems and getting a glimpse of the process of creating them, makes me look forward to the day your new book "Omega's Garden" arrives in my mailbox.

Lisa Romeo said...

llia - please send me an email with your postal address. Use the "email me" link at left column, so we can send you the book!- Lisa