How Do You Work?
The Creative Process: What Is It? How Does It Work? How Do You Experience it?

by Lyn Lifshin

I got started writing later than many. I did a poem when very young and Robert Frost wrote something great on one so in the back of my mind I kept that. I thought someday, maybe.

Ironically, I was afraid I had nothing to write about even when I wanted to write--- a summer in Cape Cod-- I remember sitting there in a white dress -- maybe 16 --with a pink velvet cummerbund wanting to make a poem and no idea where to start or what it could possibly be about. Even in college I was afraid to take a writing class.

 But it was not until I left graduate school after walking out of my PHD exam that I began: first in the quiet times at a public radio station where I edited the Scene on 17. There were always slow times when I began to read poetry, subscribed to many many mags listed in Len Fulton's directory and found each day magical, reading and writing.

When I left that job, I wrote every morning on Rapple, standing at a kitchen counter. When I got into ballet on Appletree, I wrote in bed or at my desk over looking Chinese dogwood and wild trillium I dug up years before with my mother on the Mother's Day a week after her mother died. I lived alone and I loved it. Sadly a van blew up last summer in my driveway: destroyed all the trillium-- so rare and gorgeous and killed most of the dogwood.

 I have a notebook of poems about that, still untyped but full of loss. In those days, I'd work all day-- write early and in the afternoon deal with the mail, or in typing up poems. When I was editing one of the three major anthologies I did, including the long time running TANGLED VINES, that came first and I hardly wrote any of my own work. Though after reading so many mother and daughter poems (I had written very few until then) that became a major theme for many years in my own work.

 In the award winning documentary film by Mary Ann Lynch: LYN LIFSHIN: NOT MADE OF GLASS my typical day at work is the main thing: my basement full of news clips, the stacks of notebooks (I always have about 60 handwritten ones just waiting and waiting-- some go back to 1990…). I will never get to all of them, never get to read all I want…it's overwhelming. The film shows me in various readings, at ballet, just every day all day routines. I am very excited: the film, once distributed by WOMEN MAKE MOVIES and show at film festivals is just now coming back as a CD. It probably sows my writing life as well as anything as does a Washington Magazine issue I think in August 1997 and some articles in The Writer's Market..

Moving to DC -- I wrote around ballet-- classes in the morning, writing some on the metro, visiting museums so often -- a calendar I kept shows 5 or6 days a week I'd be at some exhibit or talk or movie and those often became what I wrote about. I wrote a little on the metro then but it wasn't until Imoved to Virginia where the ballet studio is a much longer trip away that I began writing so much more on the metro--- it's almost seemed the only time I have-- I remember writing poems for the anthology DICK FOR A DAY and putting a harmless book jacket over wildly erotic books I didn't feel ok having others watch me read. Since I've done a lot of series of poems, I carry heavy books on the way and the train ride always seems too short. .

I still write in wire spiral note books but I long for the old kind: with unicorn on the front: now the notebooks are either very soft backed and floppy or worse: the pages come right out-- I never expected normal nice notebooks would disappear When I travel I always have a notebook-- I write bits of poems-- like this late spring in Turkey-- on cramped small notebook pages. If asked to write on a topic for a collaboration or anthology, I get obsessed with that and can write full tilt anywhere: at someone's camp for 4th of July, in the car, at the kitchen table. Rarely at a desk

Of course I can't forget the writing I did at art colonies like Yaddo, The Millay Colony and Mac Dowell--- where the days are like beaches with nothing on them and you can just walk out and everything is new and clean. Though I haven't been to Yaddo for a while, I can see in many books many poems are from those stays, especially at Yaddo where I visited three times. I miss it.

Carried in BROADKILL REVIEW VOL 7 # 2 May 2013

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Last Updated: January 17, 2014