“Wheel watch” mind is how poet and teacher Holly Hughes describes her personal discipline for paying attention.
Hughes, who conducts writing classes at Edmonds Community College, knows whereof she speaks: She fished Alaskan waters for decades and has skippered big boats. Paying attention was not only an art but a survival skill, the way it is in grizzly country.
Hughes is author of the book of poems, “Boxing the Compass,” which won the Floating Bridge Press award in 2007, and editor of the powerful “Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer’s Disease.”
She has teamed with Brenda Miller, who teaches writing at Western Washington University, on an enjoyable manual aimed at burgeoning and practiced writers who want to hone their skills: “The
Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.”
It should be noted, Miller is the author of “Listening Against the Stone: Selected Essays” and several other books and is the winner of a half-dozen Pushcart Prizes — no small thing.
Some writers steer clear of the writing-workshop world; others benefit. Even the former, however, might find “Pen and Bell” an aid to picking up traction in the face of a blank page or computer screen, a challenge poet and teacher William Stafford likened to trying to start a car on ice.
Hughes and Miller are smart, companionable and focused lantern bearers as they lead the reader through 20 chapters that capture the different hours (or seasons) of life, from “Sitting Down and Waking Up,” to “On Gratitude,” to “Befriending Solitude and Grief.”
At the end of each chapter comes a set of exercises: “Write about food you hated as a kid that you now love. Is there anything metaphorical in this conversion?” Or, “Write a description of a memorable incident without drawing on the sense of sight. See what other senses you can call upon to evoke the scene.”
These are interesting exercises for anybody and worthy five-finger exercises for even the most accomplished writer.
One of the book’s great virtues: It features the work of other writers, including Joan Didion, W. S. Merwin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, Samuel Green and Jane Kenyon. It’s a welcome corrective to an odd truth: Too many would-be writers don’t
As the authors state, their book is about, in Green’s
phrase, those “small noticings” that make up a life and a world.
“To generalize is to be an idiot,” William Blake wrote. This book nudges the reader and wirter in the other direction.
Miller and Hughes will read from their book Dec. 2 at 2 p. m. at The Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave.
“The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World,” by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes. Skinner House Books, 202 pages. $15 paperback.