The Writer’s Desk features the desks and writing practices of Gemini Ink faculty, visiting authors, teaching artists, volunteers, students, interns, staff, partners and more. Receive new posts in your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter at bit.ly/geminiinknewsletter.
Join Ken Waldman on Saturday, March 5, from 10am-1pm CST, for his workshop: So, You Want to Go Places With Your Art! This is a workshop for artists of all disciplines. How can we help more people become aware of our work? Attendees will leave inspired with concrete ideas to take their art further.
- First desk? I don’t remember having had a desk when I was growing up, but I must have. It was a long while ago. But I did have a bed, which is what I mainly use now.
- Speaking of beds, I’ve been itinerant for a number of years now, so even though I’ve had rentals here and there, I travel a lot. One constant has been a bed (even if it’s only a pad and sleeping bag in a tent). Even now I’m typing this while sprawled on a bed in a Salt Lake City basement where I’ve been staying for several days.
- Habits? Routines? No, but I do seem to make most of my deadlines. I somehow get work done. I also seem to be able to write in streaks. I may go weeks or months barely writing and then have other weeks or months where I’m writing lots.
- Stability? Not often in this lifetime. At least so far. But I can make the most of a quiet few days or weeks in one spot. One advantage of poems is I can often write a reasonable draft pretty quickly, and revisions can be done on the fly.
- Secret talent? When I was young I liked playing games and sports of all kinds. Often I’m able to make the writing into a game of sorts—when I facilitate writing workshops, I have a number of prompts that are game-like. I’m writing at these along with the other participants, and I sometimes come up with pieces that I’ll take further.
- Piece of advice I value most? To paraphrase a favorite writer, William Stafford, the more we write, the luckier we get—so let’s keep at it.
- Book or movie to reread or watch again and again? I haven’t seen a whole lot of movies for years now, even during the pandemic, so it’s rare when I see a movie more than once. Similarly, I don’t read as much as I used to, so rarely reread books. There’s too much I haven’t read or watched even once. So reading or watching something new is the priority.
- Anything I’ve been listening to lately? No, no, and no. I can be pretty boring! Since I have the ongoing Trump Sonnets project, I stay current with this historic political time, which means reading a few favorite websites every day, plus listening to the radio when I’m driving. I sometimes refer to myself as 20th-century man since I’m a late adapter to much of the technology.
- Favorite podcast and why? I haven’t quite figured out the podcast culture. If I don’t hear something in real-time, I don’t go back to seek it out. I don’t do much at all on social media either—just a little bit, reluctantly, on Facebook.
- Theme or symbol in my work? Not all that much that I’m aware of. I’m just striving to create good work, which has evolved over the years. For instance, the past two years I’ve had nine books come out: the five latest in the Trump Sonnets series, a collection of sports poems, a creative writing manual, a collection that’s a mix of old “leftover” poems and new ones (including poems referencing both the pandemic and George Floyd, and an Alaska-set novel. The projects are a bit different and span more than thirty years. I’m just trying to write the best I can and to make sense of the world.
- Heroes? I’ve tried to stop having heroes. But I have friends who I’ll sometimes think of as heroes. For instance Bryan and Barbara Blake, musicians and all-around super-competent folks. They attend a music festival where they pitch a big circus tent and for that week, in large part because of that big party tent, are the center of a wonderful community. Bryan has also had a long career as a boat builder and Barbara has been a biologist, a writer, and a political candidate. I have a number of exceptional friends who do stellar work in their communities. I guess that makes them heroic.
- Motto? I’ve had different mottos for different times. One year, I remember, it was “It’s all illusion.” There were a few that have been more recent, but I can’t recall them off the top of my head. Mottos come and go, as does the writing, I suppose.
- Carefully planned out or go with the flow? It depends on the situation. I’d say off the top of my head that I go with the flow. But then why do I write so many formal poems. Right now I’m deep into a project of acrostic poetry. And then there are the sonnets and villanelles that I’m still writing. That means there’s got to be a plan. So not only does it depend on the situation, but it’s a mix.
- What habit do I have that I wish I started much earlier? I’m not sure I have all that many habits. I’m just keeping it a day at a time—as I also look much further out. It’s a challenge that I embrace. I’ve gotten more comfortable with myself—maybe I couldn’t have said that a long while ago. So perhaps that’s the habit I wish I had: being comfortable in my idiosyncratic life and lifestyle.
- Favorite writers? Favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? I’ve been partial to William Stafford. I have lots of others. Any fully realized poem or story is a triumph. Years ago in grad school, I wrote papers on some of these writers, which must make them favorites: Ken Kesey, Raymond Carver, Henry Miller, Walt Whitman—a bunch of unusual white guys. Definitely trying, and succeeding, in weaning myself from heroes and heroines.
- What fictional character would be most boring to meet? I don’t think any character would be boring; if they’re seemingly boring it would be on me for not paying closer attention.
- What words or phrases do I most overuse? I strive to pay enough attention to edit what might be considered an overused word or phrase.
- Misconceptions about writers? It’s that writers are in any way “special” or “gifted.” When the page is blank, we’re all equal, and I’m sure proof anybody can do this if they put in the time and pay attention. Robert Bly wrote something once which I’ve remembered. He said if you want to learn to write, don’t take writing classes. Instead, apprentice under a master. There, as an apprentice, you’ll learn how to do something really well, and a bonus is that you’ll learn a vocabulary and experience stories that are worth telling. While I attended and graduated from an MFA program, I was not any kind of star in the program. But I’ve made a home on the periphery of a number of subcultures, and have kept at the writing for years and years.
- What’s the most interesting thing I’ve read or heard recently? I’m not going to repeat gossip—plus I promised I wouldn’t. The second most interesting thing? The earliest responses to my new book—a project I started almost thirty-three years ago.
- Good writing? It results from persistence + luck.
- Next project? The novel, Now Entering Alaska Time, while in my hands now, is not officially out until June 1, 2022. I have a short story collection, Men, Women, and Food, seeking a publisher. I have a poetry collection of sonnets and villanelles, Formal Wear, seeking a publisher. I have three collections of acrostic poems, each titled Modern Acrostics, one for elementary school students, one for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, and one for a general audience, all seeking publishers. I’m also working on the ninth in my ongoing www.trumpsonnets.com project. And there’s even more going on than that.
- Learn more about my work? www.kenwaldman.com is an overview (where there’s even a link, if you know where to look, to my www.trumpsonnets.com project). February 24 I expect to attend the Gemini Ink open house (while actually in San Antonio, which means I may be able to meet some of you in person also to answer questions). Saturday, March 5, 10 AM, I’ll be facilitating my So, You Want to Go Places With Your Art workshop at Gemini Ink, and expect to also do an event/performance of some kind later that day.
Ken Waldman is a seasoned teacher of writing and a performer. He combines original poetry, old-time string-band music, and smart storytelling for a performance uniquely his. Since 1995 he’s appeared from the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage to the Dodge Poetry Festival to the Woodford Folk Festival (Queensland, Australia). His 20 books consist of 16 poetry collections, a memoir, a creative writing manual, a kids’ book, and a newly published novel, Now Entering Alaska Time. His nine CDs include two for children.
About his live shows: “Like a Ken Burns movie. . . . Always recommended.”—The Austin Chronicle; About his teaching: “He spreads the cheer of genuine work.”—Naomi Shihab Nye