Monday, June 05, 2006

Dark Triple Death Goddess

I have one secret to writing poetry that I give all my students and it's a pretty simple, but effective one. If something isn't really working, add Johnny Cash. It still might not work, but it improves whatever you have. The teaching of writing is one of those hotly debated subjects that people go round and round about -- Can it be taught?

My first writing teacher was a lovely sweet man who wore massive amounts of turquoise jewelery and nursed a desperate crush on Kathleen Turner and spoke of women as "dark triple death goddesses." He'd smoked a lot of pot, had married a lot of women, had written tons of poetry, and had really lived in that Zorba the Greek sense of the word. In class, we'd read our stories on workshop day and discuss them as a group. I nearly died when my first story was met with dead silence. I had no idea what it meant and neither did anyone else. I wanted to emulate a woman having a nervous breakdown in the story. God help us all, because I was having one in front of twenty-eight other students. A few comments were made, mostly to the effect of "huh?" and I sat back down. I wrote a few more nervous breakdown stories -- write what you know! -- but they eventually became more understandable. By the end of the class, I had a sense that the words on the page had to mean something. And I was a dark triple death goddess! Hot damn! Writing could be taught. The Johnny Cash tip, though, is all my own.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"And when the vision comes, I find that, ready to do battle, I am running: obsessively running." Frederick Exley, A Fan's Notes

Triple Death Gooddess

1 part godiva chocolate liquor
1 part Baileys
1 part Kahula
1 part coffee

Benedictions and Maledictions

What’s For Supper?

The Last Supper hung over us as we ate
instant mashed potatoes and pork chops,
Johnny Cash on the radio and he’s busted --
the bills are all due and the babies need shoes --
prisoners cheering him on in the background.
Things were tough all over, something we
said a lot in those days. No one used the word
grateful until they’d lost something valuable
and became aware of how much more there
was to lose. It could have been worse, something
else that got repeated a lot. For dessert, we’d
have vanilla ice-milk sprinkled with Nestle
Quik chocolate powder, and we were grateful.


Tom said...

I love Johnny Cash. Wichita Lineman and I do some of his stuff. I also have experienced silence after reading. You wait and wait, and wait. Then years later you cringe while remembering, and write about such. I can identify. Excellent piece


Paul said...

Yeah, Johnny Cash was and is the best, and everybody's gotta love June on Jackson. . .

Tom, y'all have a band?

R2 C2!

Wichita-Lineman said...


I always thought your secret was to add Vodka.

Johnny Cash, Cash - there is no other. Looking forward to his new album American V: A Hundred Highways, It will include the last song Cash ever wrote, "Like the 309", A song about trains, how appropriate. Out July 4th.

Sheila said...

I did it! I finally have my own blog! Its called Sheila's Thoughts of the Day!!! now i just have to figure out how the hell to use it! haha. I love johnny Cash. He is totally awesome. my favorite song is Cocaine Blues. hehe. loved the poem you wrote!

bonnie said...

Hey honey,
Fun post, love the poem, too. Have you heard of the new study that claims hot chocolate is good for keeping skin smooth and flexible? Now there's something good, too. Chocolate really is good for us!

luma said...

Michelle very is amused! It forgives my bad English, I am using the translator and here for indication of the Erik the Red. Still I am not writer for to be patife and susceptible to the critical ones! (laughs) Much Luma pleasure

John said...

Dear Michelle,

Dark Triple Death Goddess -- whoa. Great post, as always. Bravo!

Jason said...

I had to wait over a week to get feedback on a story I had written and submitted in a Michelle class. Its bumped to the next meeting like 2nd Letterman guest and I was deadly afraid of it. The story.

It had graphic depictions of sex mixed with cheese ball melodrama and ended with man-crying. I thought for sure I was going to be labeled a pervert or freak.

I got silence (broken by Michelle I think). Terrifying.

The one comment I do remember was someone asking me if the story had actually happened to me. It was an amazing compliment. The people were quiet because they thought this horrible thing I wrote actually happened.

Nat said...

My first writing teacher was a guy who longed to be published, and that became who and what he was to the exclusion of all else. I didn't have the heart to tell him that my opinions and blatherings had already been published, and this was pre-web. He had no sense of poetry, and his was the only answer to what a poem may have meant. Fortunately, writers will grow even from such terrible fertilizer.

cindy said...

Dear Michelle,
adore your stories and posts and photographs. Now you're not only a triple goddess, you're a woman on the verge of a great breakthrough.
And you deserve it!


Anonymous said...

Add Johnny Cash? I'm a boy named Sue. How do you do? Yeah, rhymes pretty good.