I write in my living room, at a desk that faces the far wall. I always switch the lamp on, for a sense of occasion, I think. I don't have a separate studio or practice space so it's the least I can do. My boyfriend and I have always kept our television in the bedroom and our laptop unplugged and folded into its case when not in use. Often records are playing on the turntable, (This is already sounding so retro, but it's all totally true.) I have willingly thrown myself back in time, it reduces any sense of distraction I feel as I approach the act of writing. Live recordings of jazz singers seem to be my favorite soundtrack, I have always felt that we are up to the same thing, renegotiating an established melody, and taking all the time you need to share the way it fits to your own voice. My current favorites are a six-minute version of “Rainy Days and Mondays” sung by Sarah Vaughan in Tokyo, 1975, as well as “New Blues (You Purr)” by Betty Carter.


I try and leave a sheet of paper in my typewriter at all times, so I have a consistently legible way of preserving ideas (or recording the ways in which I need to phrase them), capturing what might otherwise be fleeting thoughts, never regained. I think most poets assume the forgotten lines to be among their best, we raise them to the heavens by racking our brains dying to remember them. Longhand is no good, as I tend to write in horribly closed and slanted cursive when I feel rushed, I grab for the backs of random envelopes, for bills or receipts, whatever is at arm's length. After the fit of writing has passed these lines are often impossible to read. I avoid using a computer until I absolutely have to, poetry often hits me so suddenly I haven't the time to take out the computer and turn it on, get into Open Office or whatever program. By the time I do that the flame has already died down a bit.


The paper usually stays in the carriage for about a week, sometimes less. When I feel I have exhausted my subject, I remove it and keep it beside me as I type on the computer. It feels a little like when your teacher allows you to use your notes during a big test. They are being mined and conversely arranged into either poetry or prose nonfiction. Most of the pages tend to have bits of both. This second draft in which the arrangements take precedence is always the point in which I lose track of time. I realize what the workable material is and that quickly bleeds into where it must be placed. How beautifully do the brakemen allow the blood through? The longer I go on writing the more I begin to see it as a skill. An easy thing to forget, when one has come to writing through poetry. I'm less in awe that it's taking place, I just relax and take pleasure in it.


Originally Published: November 10th, 2010

Poet Cedar Sigo was raised on the Suquamish reservation near Seattle, Washington, and home schooled from the eighth grade onward. In 1995 he was awarded a scholarship to study writing and poetics at the Naropa Institute, where he studied with poets Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Lisa Jarnot, Alice Notley, and...