18 December 2004

Rebecca McClanahan

Rebecca McClanahan is a poet, an essayist, a memoirist, a writing teacher, and as she is quick to point out, a wife, a stepmother, an aunt, a daughter, a niece. She teaches CNF and poetry in the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program where I am a student of fiction. On a personal basis, I find her intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, humble, lovely, sweet, and people she has mentored speak highly of her.

Since I learned of McClanahan, I have read three of her books:

Tonight I finished Write Your Heart Out: Exploring & Expressing What Matters to You, an inspirational volume on why and how to write. She has given me a raft of new ideas, including passage journals, correspondence poems, joy lists, Mark Doty's question of what noun would you want tattooed on your body, Billy Collins's "log of the body's voyage," Michael Steinberg's shareable idea, William Matthews thanking "my friends, who by loving me freed / my poems from seeking love." Lest I imply that McClanahan only collates the ideas of others, here's a quote from her: "When writing becomes your heart, everything changes. Where you once wanted only to express yourself, you now want to hear what the work has to say."

I place this book with respect next to Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, which is easily the finest text on how to write description I have come across.

My favorite quote from Write Your Heart Out comes from her nephew, a remark he made after watching her work on an essay: "Oh, I get it now. You just put words down on paper and then you scratch them out. I can do that." My second favorite quote comes from her three-year-old niece, Hanah: "I had a dream. But I wasn't in it. Only the beach was in it."

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